Stalk to Table: Coltivare Garden Yields Rare Corn for Polenta

A flavor-rich, unique variety of corn grown in the Coltivare garden in recent months has made its way to the menu—but not for long! 

Chef Ryan Pera and team are preparing a small plates dish using Jimmy Red corn that’s been milled into polenta and served with mushrooms, herbs and a poached egg. The dish will only be available for a few weeks until the supply of harvested Jimmy Red runs out.

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The seeds of the rare Jimmy Red were planted in the garden in April. Stalks grew to about 10 feet tall and the corn was harvested in late July. Jimmy Red is highly aromatic and has a rich, sweet taste. The heirloom corn is believed to have been originally cultivated by Native Americans and brought to South Carolina in the early 1900s. Over time it was mostly forgotten as farmers favored other, more resilient varieties. But in recent years, a small cadre of Southern chefs and farmers have helped bring Jimmy Red back from the brink.

The kernels are handpicked from the cob. 

The kernels are handpicked from the cob. 

Once harvested, the corn was dried on the cob and then the kernels handpicked. Next the corn was ground awaiting its turn to be slow cooked in batches to become polenta.

“This is a product you can’t just buy, so this is one of those instances where being able to grow our own came in very handy,” Ryan says. “Any heirloom product tastes better than what you’re going to find in the grocery store. I’m happy with how this dish has turned out—the flavor, the color, the presentation—it all comes together.”

The corn is milled in batches. 

The corn is milled in batches. 

Coltivare has grown corn in the garden before, in particular the Eight Row Flint variety—the namesake for its sister icehouse nearby. But interestingly, only one variety of corn can be grown at a time in a particularly area, otherwise they will easily cross pollinate, ruining the strain.

You definitely want to snag a table at Coltivare to taste this dish while you can!

The milled corn product before being slow cooked. 

The milled corn product before being slow cooked. 

AJ Mistretta