Pennsylvania Dutch Dried Corn

by Ari Weinzweig

In the food world, dried corn has remained a closely closeted, practically clandestine culinary secret. No longer. We’re going to out it – I’m reluctantly going to formally announce that Pennsylvania Dutch dried corn is the “next big thing.”

Jim Grosh, business manager at the Roadhouse, tasted the first batch of creamed corn we made from it, smiled big and said, “Yep, that’s the stuff. I grew up on it.”  The late RW Apple who has written extensively on both food and politics for the New York Times for many years reported that, “I’ve been eating Cope’s corn since my childhood.” Writing about the Thanksgiving meal, he said, “More than anything except the turkey, it is a link to our forefathers, something we all seem to crave.”

The tradition of drying corn is a natural one. Corn is in season a few weeks of the year. The rest of the time it has to be preserved, and back then, drying was the most common way of preserving. The key is to get the corn into production right after picking before its sugars start turning to starches. The drying then caramelizes the natural sugars in the corn, giving it this subtle, toasty, super sweet flavor.

To this day, most all of the dried corn made is consumed within an hour or two of what should be called Dried Corn World Headquarters in Rheems, PA. That’s where the John Cope’s is. When it comes to dried corn today, Cope’s is it-they’re the only ones left making it! Martin Cope did his first batch in 1900 and the company is basically still doing it now as they were then. They buy corn only during the height of the season when the sugars are at their highest.

When we cook it up into Pennsylvania Dutch creamed corn, it’s got an amazing brightness of flavor that makes me want to eat this stuff even when corn is in season in the summer! In his New York Times piece, RW Apple quoted Thomas Cope as saying, “Isn’t it something? Such a simple process, but it gives you the taste of corn roasted over an open fire, not just in the summer but all year long.”

Creamed corn is only one of a few million things I think you can make with this stuff. The great thing about creamed corn made from Pennsylvania Dutch dried corn is that it was designed to be made in the middle of the winter and that it tastes terrific regardless of when you eat it. Essentially anything you make with fresh corn is going to be good with dried corn. We make a great corn chowder from it at the Roadhouse. So for the nine or ten months out of the year when there’s no good local corn to be had, this is the old-fashioned, great tasting, American way to go. Stop by the Roadhouse for a taste, or buy a box at the Deli, Mail Order or Roadhouse and cook some up for yourself.

6 Responses to “Pennsylvania Dutch Dried Corn”

  1. Jennifer Kromrei says:

    I am tickled after reading this commentary about Dried Corn! I too was raised on this fabulous food-having had grandparents who lived in the PA dutch country and spending many summers there. For anyone who has never triedit, they are really missing a treat!

    Thanks for bringing this to the Roadhouse, Ari-it makes me feel like I’m at home when I come to eat there.

    – Jennifer

  2. Tim Schmitt says:

    Jim is the best taste tester I have ever met! He has a very discriminating palate. I hope to work with him again sometime. Tim Schmitt

  3. George Smith says:

    In the 1930s, we would get a sugar sack full ever winter from an aunt who lived on a farm. It was heavenly!

  4. Meredith Nickerson says:

    My family has been making their own version of dried corn for as long as I can remember! We have a huge metal pan that covers all four burners of the stove, and we slow dry the stuff for days!

    This Summer it’s my turn to learn the tradition and carry it on. It’s a staple at every family holiday!

  5. Jay Pendleton says:

    My Dad made it the ancient way (sun dried) then with the metal water-jacket pan on the stove, and finally in the oven (gas with a pilot light – the pilot does the work). I did it that way for many years (with some failures), but then got another oven with electronic ignition. I now use a dehydrator (such as those people use to make jerky) which is the way to go. Precise temp. control plus air flow, more volume, less time, and the product is better than ever. I grow and use Silver Queen; years of testing shows this produces better dried corn than yellow (which I use for freezing), don’t ask me why.

  6. Gretchen Bingham says:

    I grew up in Johnstown, Pa. and my grandmother dried her own corn on a homemade sheet metal corn dryer built by her son in shop class. I still remember days of corn drying over a low gas fire (two burners on her stove), using hot water underneath the upper pan to dry it out. It was the absolute BEST vegetable I ever ate! After she died, I asked my mom to give me the corn dryer, but it was apparently long-gone, nowhere to be had in her basement. Sigh. Here is Canada, I cannot find it, even in the areas around Kitchner, Ontario, where German settlers and Amish lived. Can you ship to Canada?? If not, I’ll have to get some sent to Buffalo and pick it up!!!

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