Sour Corn

4.78 from 9 votes
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Southern sour corn in a spoon
Photo by Hank Shaw

Anyone who knows me knows that I am always looking for some new thing to ferment, preserve or pickle. So when I learned about Southern sour corn, I had to make it.

I wish I had some great story to tell about how I first ate this lacto-fermented sweet corn in some West Virginia diner, maybe on top of some chicken fried steak with some crowder peas. Actually, that sounds amazing and I’ll have to make it.

But no, I learned about this Appalachian specialty in Ronni Lundy’s fantastic cookbook Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes. I’ve been cooking a lot from this book lately, and I simply cannot overstate how wonderful a book it is. If you like real Southern food, you need to buy this book.

Sour corn is to corn what sauerkraut is to cabbage. Same deal. Stupid easy to make. Corn, water, salt, and maybe something extra to make it yours. In my case, thinly sliced green cayenne chiles.

A few things you need to know.

  • Use Diamond Crystal kosher salt if you want to use my volumetric measurements; other salts will give you a different brine strength. Or you can weigh the amount of corn + water in grams and then add out 2 percent of that weight to the water to make a brine.
  • Keep the corn below the level of the water. Floaters will mold up fast. You can use a clean plastic bag will with more brine to do this, or use a pickling plate if you have a crock, or a small regular plate if you have one that works.
  • Mold happens. When you see it, skim it off. Usually you’ll get a ropey, icky white mold, mother-of-vinegarish thing. It’s not harmful, but you want to skim it off as the mold can get into your brine and alter the flavor a bit. It’s still fine.
  • Keep it simple. Add one or two other things to your sour corn, but remember this is a base condiment, not a finished relish. Of course, you can ferment a full relish if you want, but that’s a different recipe.

How to use your sour corn? Hell, it’s great as a snack. But I like it as a sort of Southern salsa, alongside the aforementioned chicken fried steak, or any other quickly cooked meat; as a side dish to my buttermilk fried quail springs to mind.

I know other people cross cultures and literally use sour corn as a salsa on tacos, which is also excellent. When you come up with a cool way to use it, do me a favor and post it up in the comments section below. Enjoy!

Southern sour corn in a spoon
4.78 from 9 votes

Sour Corn

This is a recipe for sour corn, a lacto-fermented pickled corn from the South. It's like sauerkraut, only with sweet corn. Once made, it will keep in a cool place for months and months. Just skim any mold off the top as it forms. This recipe makes about 2 quarts.
Course: Condiment
Cuisine: American
Servings: 16
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 2 dozen ears sweet corn, kernels removed
  • 1 to 5 green cayenne or other hot chiles, sliced very thin (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons pickling spice (mustard, coriander, black pepper, etc.) (optional)
  • 5 tablespoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt
  • 2 quarts water

Instructions 

  • Put the corn and chiles in clean quart Mason jars or crocks, or some other non-reactive container, which means no galvanized steel or aluminum. Make sure there is sufficient headspace to keep the corn below the level of the brine. 
  • Mix the salt and spices, if using, with the water and stir until the salt dissolves. Pour over the brine and any spices you might be using. Place something to keep the corn from floating. I use a plastic bag filled with some more brine. 
  • Put the whole shebang in a cool place, like a basement, or a quiet, dark corner -- any place below 75F or so. Let this ferment for at least 5 days, and up to 2 weeks. Taste the corn after 5 days and let it get as sour as you want it. 
  • When it's ready, move the jars to a cooler place to store for as long as you need. It'll keep for months in the fridge, although you will need to skim the mold that will form on top.  

Nutrition

Calories: 10kcal | Carbohydrates: 2g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 17mg | Potassium: 30mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 21IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 4mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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35 Comments

  1. I would like to know if it’s ok to can my pickled corn after fermentation and if so where I might find instructions??

    1. Janice: I have no idea, sorry. That said, I have kept it in the fridge for 6 months with no problem.

  2. I have made pickle corn for as long as I can remember, as a child with my mother and as an adult. Never had a problem until last year and my corn has not pickled it’s salty but not sour at all. I made it with Salt and water just like my mom did. Salt with No iodine

  3. I am in the process of pickling corn on the cob in a crock
    and it taste great to me( a little salty but still good) I am wondering if I can put it in jars with the brine and store it in fridge for how long and still be good??also can I just add some water and half brine and maybe it want be so salty just more sour ??

    1. Sue: I’ve never tried this with corn still on the cob. It is supposed to be both sour and salty. You need the salt to prevent growth of unwanted bacteria. The sour, lactic acid building bacteria don’t mind salt at the level in the recipe. Once it is sour enough for you, yes, you can keep it in the fridge for many months.

  4. I love sour corn. The way we ate it growing up was fried in bacon grease till a little browned and then on the dinner plate as a side to many meals. So yummy. Even sweet corn is really good browned in a little bacon grease but sour corn is better.

  5. Hi, I made my corn. I checked it today after 7 days , my brine is really thick. There is no mold and some brine worked out. Should I add more brine to thin out what is in the jars?

  6. I grew up with my mother and grandmother making pickle corn, I have made it for years and it turned out good. The last couple of years I have tried to make it from fresh corn on cob from the grocery store instead of fresh from a local garden. It does not make pickle corn at all, does anyone know why, I thought maybe because the corn and been picked for a while and kept on cold storage or possible some chemical they put on it. any ideals would help.

    1. Some vegetables in the grocery store have been irradiated to kill off any bad (or good, in the case of lacto fermentation)bacteria that might be on produce. I grew up in Kentucky eating Pickled Corn and it’s by far my favorite food! I now live in Florida and was pretty desperate for pickled corn when pregnant with my son, my Uncle actually shipped me some of his 🙂 I’ve had problems with Supermarket corn also but have found if I add a little whey from Yogurt it will get the process started. Hope this helps!

    1. That’s how I like it. The bacon grease gives it a wonderful flavor. I love it with soup beans fried potatoes and cornbread .

  7. A nice bit of info would be how many cups/gr/oz of corn not how many ears. I am in Ecuador so the size of an ear of corn differs. Thanks much

    1. I know you commented a long time ago. The main thing is weight of the total fermentation. E.g. if you fill a 1l container with veggies and water, you want 2% to 3% of that total weight in salt. So, assuming it all weighs about the same as water, you’d add 20g to 30g of non-iodized salt.

      When fermenting in warmer temperatures you add more salt, because the salt slows the growth a bit. So, if it’s a constant cool 15c you can do 2%. If it’s a constant warm 25c you want higher. Each location is a bit different and you have to experiment a bit to get the hang of what works – what effects you get at different temperatures, what kinds of micro-organisms are in your spot, etc.

  8. Hi Hank! I just bought 2 lb of frozen corn to start my first sour corn, then realized that the corn had probably been blanched before freezing. It’s way past the fresh corn availability so I’m hoping the frozen (thawed) will still work, even with the blanching. Any thoughts or experience?

    1. Weisha: No experience with it, so I am not sure if it will work, but it is an inexpensive experiment. Let me know if it works!

  9. Made this a few weeks ago and not sure what to do now. Unfortunately I forgot about it and did nothing for 2 weeks. Finally remembered and when I brought it upstairs, there was a little mold, no slime, BUT I saw some small very little white looking worms on the outside rim of my jar.
    Are these maggots, and is the corn still good…Tasted OK to me, but this was my 1st time.

  10. Two quarts of Appalachian Sour Corn made with just a traditional sweet corn, sal, and ground white pepper. The other 2 1/2 quarts were made using one of the new, Super Sweet, corn varieties with pickling spices and ginger. I don’t particularly care for the Super Sweets (no real corn flavor), but I thought it might really shine as a pickle. We shall see!! Bubble, bubble!!

  11. I generally like to blanch my corn before I pull it off the cob…especially at the end of season when corn worms are more prevalent. Think it will hurt the final product?

    1. Sarah: It might, because you are looking for the beneficial yeasts on the corn itself, but I am not 100% sure that blanching will hurt the process. Only one way to find out!

      1. Blanching will just break down the starch and cell walls a bit which is perfectly fine – I Blanche mine for about 30 seconds – makes it easier to remove from the cob as well

        Importantly need to cool it down after blanching – do this by putting in fridge not ice bath or cold water (I don’t know the science behind it but I’ve found shocking the corn it loses some of its sweetness so you want it to slowly cool).

  12. Have you tried dehydrating it after you pickle it? Wondering how that would be added to a loaf of sourdough bread. . . think I’m going to give that a whirl. Pardon the pun.

  13. We called this pickled corn when I was growing up and it is delicious fried in bacon grease until browned around the edges.

  14. The recipe I’ve been using is just salt and water, though it does say (more or less) anything goes. I’ll try the cayenne in my next batch. I may try the pickling spices as well, though I’ve kind of gone off them lately. Thanks for this, in any case.

  15. I’m like you—excited about fermenting anything. I’m especially intrigued by ferments I’ve never seen before, like your sour corn recipe. A question: Any idea what happens to corn’s carb count when it’s fermented like this? I’m limiting my carb intake.

  16. This looks really cool! Like you, I’m game to ferment almost anything! I hope there’s still corn at the market …

  17. Hello Hank,
    Thank you for posting the fermented corn recipe – I knew it as “pickled ” corn as a child, while growing up in Southern OH. Both my mother and my grandmother made it regularly. I remember being delighted that it occasionally came out of the Mason jars in full-cut slabs. I don’t know for certain, but believe that it was fermented in a large (5 gallon) crock and transferred to qt. jars for winter storage. I haven’t tried your recipe yet, but do regularly ferment shredded cabbage. I’ve experimented with whey from live yogurt, capsules of probiotics, and straight brine, with no noticeable difference in product! I would have given you 5 stars, but I take umbrage in that “Appalachian” does not mean “Southern”! Keep up the good work.
    Oh yes, I have made your Southern Seafood Stew several times – Ça c’est bon!

  18. I live in Appalachia (in TN not far from KY) and I’ve never heard of sour corn. I have that cookbook too, but it seems “off” to me. For example, that recipe for cheese nabs. Who in the world would do that??!

  19. I think the “mold” you mentioned is actually kahm yeast. Not harmful, but could alter the flavor if you don’t skim it off like you said. I did make several batches of this last fall and LOVED it.