Reader question… “My husband wants me to make something called ‘hulled corn.’ He remembers his mother making it but I have never even heard of it and can’t find a recipe. Do you have any idea of what hulled corn is or how it is made?” –Bethany W.

Hulled corn is also called samp and hominy. According to some sources, hulled corn is made from white corn and samp from yellow corn, but the names may simply vary from region to region. Both names originated with the Narraganset Indians, who called the dried, hulled corn “corn samp,” meaning “corn softened in water.” Another name, rockahominy, probably refers to the motion used to rub off the hulls, and was later shortened to hominy.

The earliest methods of making hulled corn used lye to remove the hulls. The lye was made from hard wood ashes soaked in water, using about one quart of ashes to process about one dozen ears of corn. Any mature field corn could be used to make hulled corn, but the harder flint varieties were preferred. Once the corn was thoroughly dried, the kernels were removed from the cob and boiled in the lye mixture for about a half hour, soaked for another half hour, and then washed in several changes of fresh water. The corn kernels were then agitated in a churn with more fresh water, or rubbed under water by hand to remove the hulls. Many rinses were required to remove all the lye. Sometimes the lye was removed by a process called thrash cooking, which involved boiling the kernels, draining and rinsing them, and repeating these steps over and over again.

Our plum trees in bloom

My mother used to make hulled corn, but she used baking soda instead of lye. She used a very old family recipe that specifies the proportions of one pint of corn kernels, two teaspoons of baking soda, and enough water to cover the corn. (A pint of dried corn kernels makes about one and a half quarts of hulled corn.) Following that recipe… First the corn kernels are soaked overnight in a mixture of water and baking soda. The next day, add another quart of water to the solution and simmer the water, baking soda, and corn for about three hours, adding more water if necessary. At the end of this time the hulls should be loose and should rub off easily. Drain the corn and rinse with cold water until it is cool enough to handle. Using your hands, rub the kernels together under the water to remove the hulls. The hulls will rise to the top of the water and should be removed and thrown away. After all the corn has been hulled, rinse it well in several changes of water. Cover the corn with fresh water, bring it to a boil, drain, and rinse again. Next cover the hulled corn with water and simmer until it is tender… this will take several hours. Add more water as the corn cooks and the water boils away. I have seen recipes that mention canning the hulled corn, but my mother told me that because they always had dried corn kernels in storage year round, she just made small batches of hulled corn fresh when they wanted it.

In most parts of New England, hulled corn was served as a vegetable or as a breakfast food and was eaten with milk and salt. In other areas, it was used to make a samp porridge, which was basically a combination of hulled corn and dried beans, cooked with meat. The early settlers made a type of “succotash” using hulled corn, meats, and various vegetables. My father especially loved having a bowl of hulled corn with milk, and my mother told me she always liked to eat it that way too. I have to be honest… I don’t remember having any special liking for it myself!