High Satiety: how to take blue corn tortillas from garden to gay culinary abandon

by | Sep 16, 2013

Mexican Corn Tortillas from garden to gob!

To combat early spring chills, I’ve been getting hot under the collar over making Mexican tortillas from scratch. And I don’t mean just buying the “masa harina” flour – this is about processing it from whole, locally-grown Blue Hopi corn!

If you, like the kings and queens of yore, fancy a feasting experience of excruciatingly high satiety, you’re in good company.

Since early winter I’ve wanted, nay, obsessed, over growing and making a complete, nutritious, and delicious Mexican-style meal from scratch, all in our own backyard. I think it started when a friend made me a chipotle chilli (smoked jalapeño) black bean dip a few months back. I was left aching for more. And it was served with blue corn chips, which got me thinking…

I looked high and low for heritage ‘flint or dent’ corn seed, a relative rarity, it seemed, in Western Australia, and researched how to process it into “masa harina” flour.

The stakes grew high in June when Haag Rd Farm (Margaret River) Co-ordinator, Jema McCabe, came on the scene. Jema, with the help of enthusiastic farmhands Lilli and Jonathan, had grown a crop of Hopi Blue corn last summer! It was hanging, she told me, in the Haag Rd Farm shed, and she was wondering what to do with it. Jackpot! A few questions had to be answered before we could feast. I was patient, and persistent.

Question about a key ingredient: “food grade lime”. What on earth could that be? I called chemical companies, and my 85-year-old chemist friend, Michael Gill, to get to the bottom of it.

The lime, or calcium hydroxide, is needed to “nixtamilise” the blue corn. The process softens and loosens the hard, indigestible corn husk, and also transforms niacin, vitamin B2, and other nutrients into forms easily digestible for humans.

The lime I brought to the table came via Michael, friend, retired chemist, potter, silviculturalist of Smithbrook. It was labelled “Straight lime” in black marker. Do you think the straight part meant “straight from the shed”? He said it was from a bag of lime he was going to make plaster with,  and I was assured breezily it would be fine. Hmmm!

Jema got some fossil powder from the USA, and though it was unclear exactly what it was – the label read “safer than calcium oxide” – we decided to trial it too.

Stage one – the liming – took a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon in the Haag Rd Farm kitchen/sea container. We boiled the corn for 15 minutes in lime solution – two pots for two kinds of lime to test, and one pot with nothing as a control.

By the time the corn was boiling, it was already smelling, Jema said, like Mexico, and tortillas! We were on the right track. The control pot, with no lime, smelled like ordinary sweet corn does when on the boil.

Post boil, we insulated the pots in hessian and left it to soak overnight.

They were slightly softened, but still very bitey and whitish in the middle. From what we’d read that could be ok, as it’s better they are harder than too mushy. So we went ahead with the next stage: de-husking.Come Sunday morning, joined by Margies locals Dayna, and Brendan, we drained the pots and tested a couple of kernels for hardness.

The yellowy, gelantinous husk peeled away relatively easily, but did hold a little to the base of the kernel. Jema busied herself making an insane guacamole fusion dip of avocado, yoghurt, and umeboshi plums, while Dayna and I bent over for some time, concentrated, rubbing corn grains together to away with the last, somewhat stubborn husks.

I suddenly envisaged a dark future, with haggard, blue-ish grey shadows, seen fading into the blue corn fields at dusk. The Hunchbacks of Haag Rd!

Brendan arrived just in time to break us out of the freaky Hunchback reverie as he put the new hand grain grinder through its paces.

He noted the colour was certainly unique, “looks like Corn-crete”.

And he turned and he turned the handle, grinding up more and more promising purple-grey stuff. To everything, there is a season, Turn, Turn, Turn, we sang to keep up his spirits.

With a home made blood orange rosella cordial and sneaky nip of tequila to finish, the cracked corn team thus embraced Sunday afternoon in High Satiety, musing lazily and happily whether it would ever be possible to match the meal we’d just produced.

Recommended Reading

Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon

Where to buy traditional ‘tortilla corn’ seeds for Western Australians

Yilgarn Drylands Permaculture, Geraldton
Bee Winfield of MerriBee Organic Farm, Nannup

Where to buy “masa Harina” flour for making traditional tortillas, and chipotle products

Kakula Brothers, Perth or Kakhulas Sister, Fremantle

Special Notes

Once ground, all grains and seeds begin to oxidise, which depletes the nutrient value as time goes by. It’s best to use flours freshly ground – those less than a month old.

Of all grain or seed flours, “Masa Harina” tortilla flour is said to oxidise and lose nutrients particularly fast. This is another very good reason to learn to grow, nixtamilise, mill and eat your own home-grown “flint/dent” corn, or strike a deal with some growers in your local community to do it for you. The process isn’t hard – with a few friends it was light work and we had an absolute ball.


According to some sources, one can also burn sea shells or use pure hardwood ash as a liming agent. Recipes with quantities of lime to use and cooking times were somewhat challenging to find and highly variable!