2014-08-28 / From The Garden

Island Corn Report 2014

By Cynthia Gibson

We all wait with much anticipation for the first crunchy, sweet bites of island-grown corn. Usually it is worth waiting for after a long winter, however, this summer is different. The hot sun, is what makes island corn special. The corn so far is beyond bland and totally void of flavor. No sun, no sugar, no sweet corn! A friend makes a very simple, uncomplicated corn salad. To compensate for the lack of sugar she added mint and basil. (See recipe at right.)

This is also the time that Narragansett Indian Flint corn is being harvested. This variety comes with a history! The Narragansett Indians are responsible for this fine crop, also known as Rhode Island White Cap corn. It has a cream color, not really a white or yellow. Indians gave dried kernels to Roger Williams and Providence colonists in 1636. Then the colonists began growing the sturdy vegetable and the Narragansett Indians taught them how to make cakes out of the ground meal. The corn is very dense and difficult to grind, so making flour was no easy task. The cornmeal and dried kernels helped the Indians and colonists survive long winters with little food.


Narragansett White Flint Corn waiting to be ground into jonnycake flour. Narragansett White Flint Corn waiting to be ground into jonnycake flour. Narragansett Indian Flint corn is still grown in Rhode Island. It is considered a purebred corn and is pollinated by the wind, so the fields of this breed cannot be grown next to other varieties. It is a stand-alone crop.

“Joniken” is an Algonquin word for cornmeal cake, which later became known as “journey cakes” because they were packed into saddlebags and small trunks and taken on exploring trips and visits to other colonies. This evolved into johnny cake. In the 1970 the legislature officially changed the spelling from johnny cake to jonnycake, although not everyone adopted the change.


Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. The best jonnycake cornmeal comes from grist mills. Look for Kenyon’s (Usquepaugh, R.I.), Carpenter’s (Perryville, R.I.), and Gray’s ( Westport, Mass.) Thick or thin, the jonnycake is part of local Rhode Island cuisine and is gaining popularity once again.

Newport County Jonnycakes

1 cup ground Jonnycake
cornmeal
1 tsp. salt
2 cups boiling water

In a medium-sized bowl, mix all ingredients together. The mixture will be thin. Ladle small amounts onto a buttered or non-stick sprayed griddle or pancake frying pan. Fry until golden brown underneath and flip only once. When they are golden brown on the reverse side they are done. A little maple syrup at room temperature is a perfect accompaniment.

Serves 8 8 ears of island corn (one per guest) 1/4 cup finely chopped mint 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian basil

Boil the corn until it is tender and not overcooked, approximately 8 minutes. While the corn is still warm to the touch, cut the kernels off the cob. Place in a large bowl, add the mint and basil, and toss. The warmth of the corn is important because it imparts the flavors of the tangy mint and pungent basil. You still can taste the corn, but it is now enhanced. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Gardening Tips

. Weeds just do not stop growing; continue weeding.
. Time to plant last crop of lettuce and radishes.
. For Concord grapes on the
vine, wrap with muslin bags to
protect them from birds and raccoons. . Look for ripe tomatoes; if you
have them, call me!
. Clean any remaining fruit
from around fruit trees to prevent insects and unwanted pests.
. Last chance to pick fresh
blackberries. The season is about
to end.

Return to top