Heirloom Popcorn Varieties

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Photo by Andrew Weidman
"Strawberry" popcorn is a striking plant that has long been a favorite of market gardeners and home growers.

Popcorns are among the most ancient members of the maize family. Some scholars believe the first domesticated corn was indeed a popcorn type, although it may not have been consumed that way.

With such deep roots, there have been thousands of types of popcorn developed through the millennia. Thanks to seed-saving enthusiasts and farmer-breeders, we still have a number of interesting old and old-new popcorns to grow. Here are three:

‘Dakota Black’ (95-105 days; rows). A striking popping corn with pointed kernels so dark purple they appear nearly black, it’s a fairly recent addition to the open-pollinated popcorn world. This variety has been specifically selected for improved stand-ability—the kernels pop best when ears are allowed to dry down completely in the field. When popped, ‘Dakota Black’ yields a rich, white puff with a black hull, and it produces a single 6-to-8-inch, 15-row ear on 4-to-6-foot stalks. Your family and friends will love it.

‘Strawberry’ (85-100 days; rows).
A beautiful, red-hulled popcorn, it makes a great addition to fall decorations and pops into a tasty treat. The diminutive 2-to-4-inch long ears are born on stalks that may vary from 1 to 4 feet in height—up to four ears per stalk is not uncommon. ‘Strawberry’ is popular with market gardeners and for home use; some growers also enjoy a commercial market for shelled kernels. For best popping, pick dried ears and shell as needed.

‘Glass Gem’ (90 days; rows).
A colorful phenomenon to say the least, this beautiful flint corn was developed by Carl Barnes, an Oklahoma farmer of Cherokee descent. With its surreal colors and glass-like translucency, it’s as much a pleasure to look at as it is to eat. Yet, this corn is far from a novelty, popping remarkably well for a delicious snack, and it can be ground to make a tasty cornmeal. Its limited availability and popularity also make it valuable as a seed crop. Expect up to 6 ears of varying lengths on stalks that reach 10 feet in some conditions. As a drought-resistant variety, irrigate sparingly to avoid lodging.

Oscar H. Will III is the Editor in Chief of MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine.

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