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White Cap Flint Corn

Zea Mays v. White Cap

White Cap Flint Corn is a quick growing crop, averaging 110 days to ripen, and the traditional yield ranging from 50 to 60 bushels per acre. Originally a landrace flint corn cultivated by the Narragansett Indians, White Cap Flint was adopted during the 17th century by Rhode Island settlers for milling and for fodder. In the early 19th century much of Rhode Island corn was processed by the local slave population. In the early 20th century improved strains of White Cap corn were developed in Rhode Island by the staff of the Rhode Island Experimental Station. The 1920s marked a turning point for New England corn when the Connecticut Agricultural Station published a report in 1924, evaluating 42 different varieties of flint corn. Although it was not the intent, this report was the obituary for flint corn. In fact, one of the primary authors, geneticist D.F. Jones, was one of the engineers behind the F-1 Hybrid Corn Belt Dents that dominates modern corn production.

White Cap Flint was the invariable ingredient of the quintessential Rhode Island dish, the Jonny Cake. A dish native to the Narragansett Indians, the Jonny Cake was made from milled corn meal and was often eaten with butter and/or maple syrup.

Rhode Island White Cap Flint has a large local band of followers who are intent on keeping up levels of production and consumption. As an improved landrace corn that does not thrive under conventional agricultural regimens, Rhode Island White Cap has been excluded from mass cultivation. Its survival has depended on the devoted work of isolated individuals who view White Cap Flint as a historic grain of the foremost importance and a treasure worth any amount of labor or inconvenience to preserve. It has been kept on the landscape by small plot farming and the work of seedsmen. The demand for White Cap Flint products is very local, and therefore at risk. The Jonny Cake festival in Rhode Island was canceled in 2014 after 40 years.

This landrace will never be mono-cropped under a conventional agriculture regimen. As an improved landrace, it does best in organic schemes with modest fertilization. The plant has some salt tolerance, so has always been planted near coasts or rivers. The flint corn is sufficiently hard to discouraged classes of boring insects, particularly corn weevils. There has been a devoted band of farmers, millers, and citizens who have defied the dictates of agronomists that they should grow high yield dent corn for nearly a century because they revered the taste that the Natives of the region had taught them. We should do everything in our power to ensure this gift from pre-colonial times survives through the 21st century.

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