Texas legacy Petmecky corn rescued from brink of extinction
Written by Marshall Hinsley.
Rescuing a crop from the brink of extinction, Victory Seed Company is reintroducing a variety corn in 2017, and it has a Texas connection.
With sturdy stalks that grow tall and produce ears that are eight inches long with sixteen to eighteen rows of kernels in varying colors, Petmecky corn is a flint or flour type of corn that can be harvested young and eaten as roasting ears.
Most commonly, though, its ornamental ears are allowed to dry so that the kernels may be ground into cornmeal.
In the past, this grain corn was sustenance to communities in the Texas Hill Country. Victory Seed Company founder Mike Dunton says word about the variety came to him back in 20015 when he was approached by C. B. "Hoppy" Hopkins of Fredericksburg, Texas.
According to Hopkins, German settlers entered the Texas Hill country in the mid 19th Century and signed a treaty with Native Americans in the area in 1847. At about that time, the Comanches gave the corn to the Petmecky family of Fredericksburg as a friendly gesture.
The family planted a large block of it every year after year. In the early 2000s, the last family member died with a standing of the crop still growing in the field.
Hopkins knew of the family's legacy and picked some of the last crop to save it for whatever university or museum might take interest in it. None did, so he then passed it along to Dutton, hoping that he could keep the cultivar and its lore alive.
“No one really knows how many unique plant varieties are lost to time in any given year," says Dutton. "But because of the foresight of concerned people like Hoppy, we do get a very real understanding about the razor’s edge on which a variety’s survival is often balanced. If Hoppy had simply driven past the field that fall day and thought, ‘how sad’ instead of taking action, the variety would now be lost.”
The corn grew well on Victory’s farm in Oregon, but it was late to mature in the cooler climate. In an effort to keep the seed protected until a more favorable growing arrangement could be made, Victory Seeds stored the remaining supply in a freezer. In time, Dutton found a trusted seed grower in a climate similar to the Texas climate.
“Our friend, farmer, and fellow seed preservationist, David Pendergrass in Middle Tennessee took on the task of growing Petmecky for us,” Dunton says. “Thanks to his success, gardeners throughout the country will now be able to collectively help to preserve Petmecky corn for future generations.”
Petmecky is now available from the seed company, and Dutton says he encourages Texas growers to plant it and add themselves to the effort to preserve such an heirloom.
"The main reasons why someone would be interested in growing out this old heirloom variety would be the same as for growing out any other heirloom variety: by choosing to use an heirloom variety in their limited garden space instead of a more modern or common variety, they are actively helping to make sure that the variety is kept around for future generations," Dutton says.
"Raising grain corn creates an opportunity for folks interested in making their own homemade, fresh ground cornmeal and flour, which is amazing compared to store bought," Dutton adds. "The variety has been grown in Texas for at least a couple of centuries, probably much longer, so it should do extremely well for Texas gardeners."
The Victory Seed Company is a farm-based, family owned, mission-driven organization that works to preserve biodiversity by locating, growing, documenting and keeping rare and endangered heirloom seed varieties available to gardeners.
Petmecky corn seed is available for purchase from the company's website.