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hulled corn

Dried corn soaked in lye water until the outer coating loosens, then washed in water to get rid of the potash, and boiled until soft.

A man was in town last week selling hulled corn. This is a new dish in this locality, though well known in most places. It is old fashioned and healthful, and you can eat all you want without any fear of its injuring you. – Kingsbury County Independent, February 1894

To hull means to strip off or separate the hull or hulls of; as, to hull grain. The hull is the outer covering of any thing, particularly a nut or grain; the husk. Hulled corn is hominy, dried field corn that has been soaked in a lye solution to loosen the hard outer covering, rinsed many times in clear water to remove any trace of the lye, then boiled until soft. The kernels swell considerably in cooking, and would be a boring dish if served plain. Hulled corn is best eaten when liberally seasoned with salt, pepper, and butter.

If you want to try the process without using caustic lye – which can be very dangerous – use a strong baking soda solution instead. Soak dried the kernels from an ear of dried yellow or white field corn overnight in two heaping tablespoons of baking soda water dissolved in enough water to cover. The next day, discard this water, rinse the corn briefly, and add to several cups of water to which a heaping tablespoon of baking soda has been added. Bring to a boil, then simmer slowly for 1-2 hours, or until the skins can be rubbed away. Once you see that the skins come off easily, pour the kernels into a bowl in the sink, and run cool water into it and down the drain. Use the hands to rub away the husks under the running water, but make sure the sink strainer is in place so they can be discarded instead of allowed to go down the drain (they might clog it). Put the hulled kernels into a clean saucepan and cover with fresh water, and cook until tender. Drain and serve.

The use of white or yellow corn for hulled corn, as well as for grits, mush, cornbread, and roasting ears is typically a personal preference, with most people insisting on one over the other simply because it’s what they grew up eating. Laura doesn’t tell us what kind of corn Pa grew in Little House in the Big Woods, and the only reference to yellow or white corn is when Grandma sifts yellow cornmeal into the pot to make mush. My own grandmother always said that yellow corn was grown for the pigs, and people ate white corn. The photo above shows purchased (white) hulled corn and dried yellow field corn, which was soaked/cooked and shown in the photo on the navigation button that brought you to this page.

Below are some Little House era recipes for hulled corn.

Samp, or Hulled Corn. An old-fashioned way of preparing hulled corn is to put a peck of old, dry, ripe corn into a pot filled with water, and with it a bag of hard-wood ashes, say a quart. After soaking awhile it is boiled until the skins or hulls came off easily. The corn is then washed in cold water to get rid of the taste of potash, and then boiled until the kernels were soft. Another way is to take the lye from the leaches where potash was made, dilute it, and boil the corn in this until the skin or hull comes off. It makes a delicious dish, eaten with milk or cream. — Fannie Lemira Gillette, White House Cook Book (Chicago: R.S. Peale & Co., 1887), 245.

Lyed Hominy. Boil white field corn in ashes and water until the husk or skin of the grain is loosened, which takes place in a few minutes; care, however, must be taken that it does not remain too long in the ashes, or it will taste of the lye. So soon as the husk is removed, it must be washed and rubbed through the hands in cold water, until the grain is cleansed from the ashes and husk or bran. When wanted to be cooked for the table, it must be scalded and then put to boil in plenty of water, having plenty of hot water to add to it as the first boils down. The grain will burst into a white ball and become soft when sufficiently done, then it is ready to be eaten, either warm or cold, with milk, cream, etc. — Thomas F. De Voe, The Market Assistant (New York: Hurd and Houghton, 1867), 409.

Hominy Fritters. Take two teacupfuls of cold boiled hominy, one cup of sweet milk, four teaspoonfuls of flour, a little salt and one egg; beat vigorously, and drop with a spoon into hot lard; fry until brown. — Lake Preston Times, March 9, 1882.

The following poem was printed in the De Smet News in 1922, and titled “Uncle John’s Poem.” It’s included here because it mentions hominy; do you see other Little House connections?

     Backward, turn backward, O Time in your flight. I am as blue as they make ‘em tonight.
     I have been blessed with an appetite rare, equal to that of a cinnamon bear.
     Now, I’m lopsided, dyspeptic, and lank, living on stuff that has made me a crank.

     O, for some gravy like Ma used to make, Pass me the steak, brother, pass me the steak!
     When I hark back to the smoke-house of yore, loaded with goodies from exit to door.
     Think of the pantry, and springhouse and cave, bursting with viands an angel might crave.

     Now I front up to some vulcanized meat, doped and embalmed till it ain’t fit to eat.
     O, for some corn-bread, and hog-jowl and greens. Pass me the beans, brother, pass me the beans.
     Once we ate hominy, finer than silk. Now, it’s ground cornstalks with racket-store milk.

     Stuff that was never inside of a cow— made out of whitewash, the devil knows how!
     I have grown weary of “crispies” and “flakes” – copyright wafers and patented cakes,
     Factory-made fodder that ain’t worth a damn! Pass me the ham, brother, pass me the ham!


hulled corn (BW 12)