Back in January of 2007 I watched a talk between John Coykendall and Glenn Roberts at Blackberry Farm where they discussed the importance of seed saving. I was moved when I heard John say that Glenn had discovered a favorite corn seed that John had convinced himself he would never taste again. For some reason that talk lit a fire in me, it was the wind needed to ignite the embers of southern seed pride that my grandmother had instilled in me as a young child. My grandmother Audrey was a seed saver by nature, and it was a way of life for just about everyone where I grew up in Appalachia. She continued to save the seeds of her favorite foods long after it was a necessity. The flavors of those old timey varietals were etched into her DNA and she continued to grow them because she craved the deliciousness and nostalgia.
After the talk that day I made up my mind that I was going to become a seed saver come hell or high water. I felt a sense of purpose and responsibility towards food that I hadn’t fully encountered as a chef before. That night after dinner I told Glenn how inspired I was and asked him if he would help me find my first seed saving job. A few days later Glenn wrote an email and told me that he had an idea. His friend had a red corn varietal and needed help getting the seed stock to a place where it was more secure but wouldn’t trust the valuable seed to a stranger. The next day I drove out to visit with Ted Chewning and his family to talk about procuring seedstock of his beloved Jimmy Red Corn. I’ll never forget how nervous I was that day, it felt like I was asking for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Luckily I left with a few ears and the kernels were in the ground the very next morning. I obsessed over taking care of those corn stalks and I had finally felt the pressure and pleasure of being a seed guardian.
Jimmy Red harvest time was a celebration and I couldn’t get the meal into a cornbread batter and skillet fast enough. Tearing into my first piece of cornbread the aroma and flavor took me right back to my grandmother’s table. I’d never tasted such perfect cornbread in my entire life. Ever since that day, I’ve dreamed of getting Jimmy Red cornbread to the masses. The first year, I gave some of this stock to my buddy Greg Johnsman of @geechieboymill to grow. We have always geeked out together over the heritage of southern food. Every year since then, he has grown a plot of Jimmy Red Corn in the hopes that it will eventually make it to the tables of restaurants all over the country. Greg has done an extraordinary job taking care of the corn, and I’m proud to announce that we have partnered to create a cornbread mix so you can experience this amazing cornmeal for yourself. Thank you for supporting Southern food!
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