Polenta is Back on the Table: Organic Floriani Flint Corn

When Anthony and Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm sold their 140-acre farm to retire to upstate New York, Oregon lost not only two of the loveliest people I've had the pleasure to call friends, but also a crown jewel of Oregon's food system. Not just the outstanding fruit and vegetables that they'd shepherded through numerous seasons, adapting them to their nuanced tastes and our Northwest climate, but also meticulous plant breeders who introduced new varieties to market buyers, chefs and restaurant menues, setting a standard of quality that's as yet unmatched.

So good with roasted and braised vegetables and meats.

Along with their beans, berries and tomatoes, a particular focus of Anthony's was the corn that they produced—about which he wrote an entire book called Beautiful Corn—including white, flint and purple varieties they named Amish Butter, Roy's Calais Flint and Peace No War, respectively. The milled Roy's Calais Flint was a particular favorite of my family, made into cornbread, polenta and more. That meant that when the Boutards left, our source for local polenta was literally taken off the table.

In the months after my horded supply of Roy's had been plundered down to the last kernel, I searched local sources for new flint corn types. I even tried several varieties of Italian polenta available at stores, but nothing was satisfying my craving for that deeply corn-flavored, toothsome texture and flecked beauty.

Thanks, Camas Country Mill!

Then I discovered that Camas Country Mill, a local miller in Junction City, Oregon, that farmer Tom Hunton and his family opened in 2011—the first mill of its kind to operate in the Willamette Valley in nearly 80 years—carried a variety of organic ground flint corn called Floriani Red Flint, a dead ringer for the Roy's from Ayers Creek.

Grown by Fritz Durst, a farmer at Tule Farms in the Capay Valley of California, it's milled a bit coarser than the Roy's, so requires more liquid and a slightly longer cooking time (see recipe, below). You can purchase the Floriani Red Flint Cornmeal in three-pound bags direct from Camas Country Mill, or in the Portland metro area contact Adrian Hale of the PDX Whole Grain Bakers Guild. (Adrian's also a great source for small-batch grains and flours from regional mills. Highly recommended by Dave for home-millers!) Both sources also sell a Floriani corn flour, which is a finer grind and more suited to baking.

Floriani Red Flint Corn Polenta

3 c. water (or stock)
1 c. Floriani cornmeal
2 Tbsp. butter or olive oil (optional)
1/2 c. parmesan, freshly grated (optional)
1/4 tsp. dried thyme (optional)
Salt to taste

In a medium-sized pot, bring water to boil. Whisk in cornmeal. Keep whisking until the mixture comes to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for at least 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the polenta thickens and is tender to the bite but not mushy, add butter, cheese and thyme, if desired, plus salt to taste. If it seems too thick, stir in additional water a little at a time.

This polenta can also be made ahead and poured into a pie plate or baking dish and refrigerated until it sets, then cut into sections and fried or grilled.

Sign up for Adrian's PDX Whole Grain Bakers Guild newsletter to buy grains, flours and beans. Read Anthony Boutard's series of Farm Bulletins to learn about his methods and practices.

Organic Noodles Go To School

What comes to mind when you think of school lunches?

Once a week the cooks in my high school cafeteria served fresh cinnamon rolls baked onsite, as well as a lusciously gooey mac'n'cheese that can still make me drool when I think of it. That was before school kitchens were disassembled and preparation was centralized in an attempt to cut labor and food costs. Those of a certain age might remember when then-President Ronald Reagan's USDA attempted to (unsuccessfully) classify ketchup as a vegetable on children's lunch trays, and most of us probably think that low quality, commodity foods are still a common feature of school cafeteria meals.

Noodle Day poster.

Dr. Betty Izumi, a registered dietitian and a professor in the School of Public Health at Portland State University, gets frustrated when she hears Portlanders talk about how gross school lunch is. “They are perpetuating a stereotype that is not true," she said. "I ask them, ‘How do you know? Have you ever eaten it?’ ”

In point of fact, for several years Portland Public Schools (PPS) has been working to make its lunches healthier and incorporate local food in its menus. Those efforts have benefited from state legislation that gives Oregon schools money to buy local food and create garden and farm education opportunities.*

As part of this funding, on Tuesday, May 14, PPS students will be served locally produced Umi Organic yakisoba stir-fry noodles for lunch as part of a traditional Japanese meal of fresh roasted cabbage, carrots and noodles in yakisoba sauce (with or without chicken), in all of the city's public schools. The noodles, made with 50 percent organic whole grains—Edison and durum wheat, to be specific—sourced from Camas Country Mill in Junction City, Oregon, were developed specifically for schools in cooperation with PPS nutrition directors.

Lola Milholland of Umi Organic.

Lola Milholland, co-founder and CEO of Umi Organic, studied Japanese language and culture since kindergarten in PPS. After college she worked at Ecotrust, where she focused on supporting the first Farm to School Bill in 2011. “To work with both PPS and the Farm to School Bill as a business is a dream come true and feels very full circle for me,” Milholland said. "We worked very hard to find the right flour mix to create a great, chewy yakisoba but without the typical preservatives, food dyes, and unidentifiable ingredients."

If these noodles are a hit with the kids, they will be featured regularly next year. What can we say but "Itadakimasu!" (The equivalent of "bon appetit" in Japanese.)

* The Oregon legislature is voting to renew funding for the Farm to School program later this month. House Bill 2579 would provide $5 million for Oregon schools to buy and serve Oregon foods, and districts and partner organizations to provide agriculture, nutrition, and garden-based educational activities. The bill renews the existing $4.5 million program and $500,000 in additional funding to serve more schools and students, and evaluate results. Let your Congressperson know how important it is for our children to have access to healthy, locally produced food. Find your legislator here.

Photos from Umi Organic.