Making Cornmeal and Grits

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Homemade cornbread - made from home ground cornmeal - made from home grown flint corn.

Making cornmeal and grits is a lot easier than you might think. If you have access to, or grow your own dent corn (also known as field corn) or flint corn (Indian corn), you have the ingredients to make your own meal and grits.

Home ground cornmeal makes some of the best tasting cornbread you'll ever find. And grits? well...grits are one of those things that you either love or you hate them. I've never met anyone who is undecided about grits. Personally I love them, and grinding your own, makes them all the better.

In my opinion, Indian (flint) corn makes better tasting and better textured cornmeal and grits, but if you have field (dent) corn available, it will do just fine. Many people think Indian Corn is purely ornamental, but nothing could be further from the truth.

We grow a row or two in our garden every summer especially for grinding into meal and grits. The corn in the pictures on this page is a dent variety called "Earth Tones"...very pretty to look at, but also very tasty.  If you can spare a row in your corn patch for it, why not try growing a little of your own flint or dent corn and grind your own meal.

Making Cornmeal and Grits - The Mill

The most important piece of equipment you will need for making cornmeal and grits is a grain mill. You can find lots of different kinds of grain mills from simple hand cranked models, all the way up to big electric powered models. Mills can cost a little as around $25.00 to several hundred dollars. They all get the job done, it's simply a matter of how much grinding you're planning to do, and how much you are willing to spend.

My mill is a hand cranked model that I have converted with an old washing machine motor and pulleys. If I have a little bit to grind, I'll attach the hand crank do it by hand. If I have a lot to grind, I'll hook up the pulleys and belts and let it run in automatic.

You can also mill your own flour if you can get your hands on Hard Red Wheat.

Making Cornmeal and Grits - Preparing the Corn

Hang corn to dry for at least two weeks

If you grow your own dent or flint corn, don't pick it until the stalks and shucks are almost completely dry. If the shucks still have a little bit of green left at the base of the ear, you're ready to pick. Click here to learn more about growing your own corn.

Pull back the shucks, but don't break them off. You will have to hang the corn in a cool dry place for at least a couple of weeks after you pick it. This allows the corn to finish drying. I'll pick mine in early October and let it hang until I have some time off at Thanksgiving.

Use twine or light rope to tie 5 to 6 ears together in a bundle and hang them up 5 to 6 bundles in a string. Remember not all ears will be perfectly shaped, some will be short, and some may not have fully developed, but you should be able to collect some grain from every ear.

Shelling corn to make cornmeal

Once your corn is dry enough to use, you have to shell the corn from the cobs. You'll want to shell into a large pan or bucket. You can shell the corn by hand (which is what I do), or you can find hand shellers, or even hand cranked antique shellers at auctions or antique stores. For the small amount that I grow, I can't justify buying a sheller, so I just shell it by hand.

Shelled flint (indian) corn
Winnowing the chaff from corn on a windy day

After the corn has been shelled, you will have to winnow the chaff away from the kernels. The easiest way that I have found to accomplish this is by pouring the corn from one container into another - back and forth several times. Wait to do this outside on a windy day. The wind will carry the chaff away, leaving the clean grain ready for making cornmeal and grits. Fortunately here in Southern Indiana, nearly any fall day that is fit to be outdoors, is also windy.

Making Cornmeal and Grits:
Grinding and Screening

In addition to a grain mill, if you want to make grits, you will need three bowls and a couple of screen type strainers. One of the strainers has to have 1/16 inch screen and the other 1/32 inch screen. This will allow you to screen away the larger pieces and re-grind them, as well as separate the grits size pieces from the meal sized pieces.

My number one assistant...  helping grind cornmeal for a class project.

My number one assistant...

helping grind cornmeal for a class project.

If you are going to use a hand cranked mill like we're demonstrating here, it's best to accomplish the task in 3-4 passes. Set the mill very coarse on the first pass. All you really want to do is crack the corn.

Cracked corn - first stage to cornmeal and grits

On the second pass, you want to set the mill plates tighter so you're generating roughly 1/8 inch pieces.

The 3rd pass will be finer still and ready to screen with the 1/16 inch screen strainer. Put 1-2 cups of meal in the strainer at a time. Shake the strainer side to side until meal stops coming through. Anything that doesn't pass through the strainer will have to go back through the mill again at the same setting. This may take 2-3 cycles, but each pass will leave less big pieces in the screen.

Screening the grits from the cornmeal

Once the meal has all passed through the 1/16 screen, you then have to separate the meal from the grits by using the 1/32 inch screen strainer. Everything that shakes through the strainer will be cornmeal, and everything that remains in the screen will be your grits. In my experience, you will wind up with about a 50/50 split between cornmeal and girts.

fresh ground and screened grits

Unless you like coarse cornmeal, it will have to go through the mill one last time at a finer setting to produce the correct consistency. Home ground cornmeal should have roughly the same consistency as what you would buy in the store.

Fresh ground and screened cornmeal

If you're only interested in making cornmeal and not grits, then you don't have to go through the screening process. Just process all of the meal through a 4th time to get the fine consistency for cornmeal.

Making Cornmeal and Grits:
Storing the Finished Product

Proper storage of cornmeal, grits or flour should accomplish two things. First it keeps insect pests from getting in. Second it should slow the natural oils in the grains from becoming rancid and spoiling it. Both allowing you a longer period of use.

Many people store bulk flour and cornmeal in their freezer to keep it fresh. Home ground cornmeal and grits definitely can be stored in in your freezer, but in my opinion, they take up way too much space.

Vacuum sealed cornmeal and popcorn

I prefer to store it in quart or half gallon canning jars, using my vacuum sealer to draw out excess air. My Food Saver vacuum sealer came with a jar attachment that I thought I'd never use when we got it, but... We have used it for storing home grown cornmeal, grits, and popcorn with very good success. It will even will draw enough vacuum that the jar lid will seal - you can actually hear the lid "plink" when it draws down. When you open it later, you have to break the seal. Another good point is that you can re-seal jars after you open them using this method.

I can keep my "canned" dry goods on the shelf in my pantry, and leave the freezer for other things.

Making Cornmeal and Grits: Cooking Grits

For those of you who may not know about making grits, here's how it's done. I spent 12 years living in South Louisiana and Southwest Mississippi as a teenager and young adult, so I learned how to fix grits...y'all. Cooking grits is super easy, but if you get it wrong they won't be fit to eat. These definitely aren't instant grits, so they will take a bit more time to cook, but the flavor and texture will be much better and worth the wait.

1 - Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan, and stir in 1 cup of grits.

2 - Return to a boil and then simmer on low heat covered 30-40 minutes. Only remove lid once (at about the halfway point) to stir.

3 - When your grits are done, stir in salt, black pepper and a generous amount of butter to taste.

4 - Some folks like to add crumbled bacon or finely diced ham into their grits.

5 - Enjoy!

Learning the skill of making cornmeal, grits, and flour can be a very rewarding experience. I have found that the flavor and texture is better than store bought meal and grits - maybe it's all in my head, or maybe not. I do know that growing and grinding your own cornmeal, grits and flour costs less than buying it. I also know that every skill of this type that you learn, even if you only do it once - brings you one step closer to a self sufficient lifestyle.

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Making Cornmeal page

Related Links:

Growing Corn

Vacuum Packing