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In the old wild west days, fur trappers would go to the rough and ready Canadian town of Lethbridge, Alberta, and illegally trade furs for whiskey, giving the trading post what has to be the best name ever: Fort Whoop-Up. And whether you got your hooch at Fort Whoop-Up or from a backyard still, the old trick of hiding a flask of liquor down the leg of your boot gave us the term “bootlegger” for sellers of illegal whiskey.
James Island, S.C., became famous for the quality of its illegal liquor, and the secret to the delicious bootleg elixir is a unique corn named Jimmy Red (Zea mays Jimmy Red). Jimmy Red Corn has a much higher brix (sugar content) than most other corn varieties. Jimmy Red Corn grows over 10 feet tall with huge, 10- to 12-inch-long ears.
As with most field corn varieties, Jimmy Red Corn is yellow in the milk stage, then matures to a dark-red color that adds beautiful red flakes to the nutty-flavored cornmeal. Jimmy Red Corn's rich, sweet taste makes it perfect roasting corn. But it is the very large germ, the soft center of the kernel, that gives this corn its unique nutty taste, and when distilled, it still makes a smooth, rich whiskey.
Plant Jimmy Red Corn in the spring after all danger of frost has passed and the ground has warmed up.
Choose a spot with full sun and well-draining soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8. This is a long-season crop, needing about four months to mature. Sow seeds about 2 inches deep, 8 inches apart in rows 30 to 36 inches apart. Corn is a heavy feeder, meaning it needs rich soil, so add compost or rotted manure to your plot, or use a good slow-release organic fertilizer. Mulch will help the soil hold moisture.
Jimmy Red Corn seeds are widely available, but if you cannot find them locally try mail-order seed companies such as Gurneys (gurneys.com) and Mary's Heirloom Seeds (marysheirloomseeds.com).
Because Jimmy Red Corn is non-hybrid, you can save your own seeds. Save seeds from at least 100 corn plants to maintain genetic diversity and prevent inbreeding depression. If you cannot isolate your corn, plant your corn as far away as possible from other corn crops to prevent pollination by wind. You can also hand pollinate your Jimmy Red Corn by placing wax-coated bags over the plant’s tassels to collect the pollen, then dusting the pollen onto the silks.
For a delicious piece of Prohibition history, plant Jimmy Red Corn, so you can make colorful cornbread or even whiskey! In 1928, a Los Angeles jury of a bootlegger on trial said they said they had to be certain that the evidence contained alcohol, and they drank it all, later releasing the bootlegger for lack of evidence.
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