Baby blue popcorn (zea mays) is a miniature heirloom variety of corn, and it's quite the little gem for the spring-summer garden.
So what exactly does heirloom mean? Heirlooms come from seed that has been handed down for generations in a particular region or area, hand-selected by gardeners for a special trait.
Heirloom vegetables are open-pollinated, which means they're non-hybrid and pollinated by insects or wind without human intervention.
How experts define heirlooms can vary, but typically they are at least 50 years old, and often are pre-WWII varieties. In addition, they tend to remain stable in their characteristics from one year to the next.
I was given seed by someone many years ago, but you can source similar varieties online from Southern Harvest Quality Seed.
Like all corn, baby blue popcorn is a heavy feeder, so likes lots of compost and water. And even though it's a dwarf variety it's quite prolific, producing between four to five cobs per plant.
If you're able to, you can plant it out with the three sisters guild - a companion planting method where you plant corn, pumpkin and beans together to get more yield from the space you have available.
The corn provides the climbing pole for the beans; the beans provide nitrogen to the soil; and the pumpkin sprawls around the base acting as a living mulch with its big, shady leaves and also helps suppress or slow the growth of weeds.
The other great thing about this guild (there are many) is that you can plant it on any scale, so even if you have a small urban garden (like we do) you can still have a productive patch in a relatively small space.
But back to the baby blue popcorn.
This corn isn't for eating fresh, rather for drying and popping later - so after you've harvested, you need to let it dry.
I do this by peeling back its coat and ideally hanging it up, as it makes for good decorations. But usually I just peal the coat off and pop it in an airy cardboard box under the kitchen bench.
As it dries the colour can darken to a dusky, midnight blue. It's so pretty that I sometimes arrange it in lines and then in a mandala shape.
Before popping the corn, you need to remove the kernels from the cob. Then heat a pot on the stove with one to two centimetres of oil on the bottom (we use olive oil).
To make sure the oil is hot enough, put one bit of corn in - it should pop quickly. If it doesn't, wait for the oil to heat more.
Once it's all in, shake the pot every now and then to make sure all the corn gets popped. And after a few minutes or so it'll all be done. You'll notice, the corn turns white once popped - slightly disappointing, but still darn tasty.
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