Professor Torbert’s Orange Corn Grits

Professor Torbert Rocheford decided he wanted to help the world. Specifically, to help the poor in Africa improve their diets, and thus their nutrition, in order to save lives. That’s what started him on his mission to develop orange corn. The orange color comes from higher levels of carotenoids, like beta-carotene, which the body converts to Vitamin A, which is lacking in the diets of many developing countries.

(Hear this podcast episode HERE.)

It’s not sweet corn, like what we eat right off the cob, that we are talking about. It’s field corn or “dent” corn, that grows on millions of acres here in Indiana and throughout the country. It is the corn that is processed into countless products like corn oil, cornflakes and other cereals, tortilla chips and other snack foods, corn syrup, feed for livestock, corn meal, and grits, to name just a few.

In its most basic milled form, as corn meal and grits (sometimes called polenta), it is a staple in the diets of many people in developing countries. Often eaten three times a day. So improving the nutritional value of such a crop can dramatically improve people’s health in these countries. And that is exactly what has happened in many countries of Africa where Dr. Rocheford’s orange corn has been adopted.

Dr. Torbert Rocheford holds the Patterson Endowed Chair in Purdue University’s Department of Agronomy. On the new episode of the Indiana Home Cooks Podcast, he discusses his work in breeding orange corn and how that lead to the marketing of Professor Torbert’s Orange Corn Grits here in the U.S. That product is becoming a favorite of chefs and home cooks not only for its nutritional boost, but especially for its creamy corn flavor, and unique orange hue. And the orange corn for the grits is grown and processed here in the Hoosier State. Read more about the grits and the orange corn story here.

Helping him with Professor Torbert’s Orange Corn Grits are his son, and co-founder, Evan Rocheford, and Torbert’s wife Katie, who has come up with some interesting uses for Orange Corn Grits. We hear from both of them in the episode as well. Listen here.

Thanks to all three Rochefords for allowing me to share the story of Professor Torbert’s Orange Corn Grits. It’s an important story of reaching out with a helping hand to those in need across the world, from right here in our Indiana Home.

Photo of Torbert & Evan by Rachel Sale.

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Microwave Orange Corn Grits for One

Katie Rocheford

  • 1/3 cup Professor Torbert’s Orange Corn Grits
  • 1 1/3 cup water
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp butter

Place all ingredients in a microwave safe cooking dish (about 6 cup capacity). Stir lightly, cover and cook in the microwave on high for 5-6 minutes depending on your microwave’s power. After cooking is complete, leave it covered and let it sit 2 minutes. Then stir thoroughly and serve. Extra butter, salt/pepper, milk or cream, etc. may be added as desired.

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Lemon Polenta Cookies

by Carrie Vasios Mullins

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

  • 1/2 cup uncooked polenta (or Orange Corn Grits)
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 12 T (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 T lemon zest
  • 2 T fresh lemon juice

Adjust oven rack to upper and lower positions and preheat oven to 350ºF. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk together polenta (or grits), flour, and salt, and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together sugar and butter till light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg and vanilla . Add dry ingredients and beat until just incorporated. Stir in lemon juice and zest.

Drop dough by heaping tablespoon onto prepared baking sheets. Bake until lightly golden, about 18 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes on sheet, then transfer cookies to wire rack to finish cooling.

See recipe online here.

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Professor Torbert’s Orange Corn Grits & Lemon Biscotti

by Katie Rocheford

  • 3/4 cup Orange Corn Grits
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3 T lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • Egg wash (one egg beaten with 1T water or half & half)
  • Sugar for sprinkling

Prepare grits: Grind grits in a blender until consistency of corn meal. Stir lemon juice and zest into grits and let sit 15 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat oven to 350ºF.

Combine flour, salt, and soda in a medium bowl. Whisk together and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar together thoroughly. Add eggs and beat well. Add grits mixture and mix well.

Stir flour mixture into butter mixture by hand until just mixed. Shape and roll dough into 2 logs about 12″ long and 3″ to 4″ wide. (If dough is sticky, flour your hands and sprinkle flour on countertop for easier handling. Or dough can be refrigerated until firm enough to handle.)

Transfer logs to prepared baking sheet, brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake at 350º about 30 minutes or until top is cracked and logs are a bit brown. Remove from oven and cool for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temp to 280ºF.

After logs have cooled for 20 min, cut them diagonally into 1/2″ slices (biscotti). Place biscotti back on baking sheet and bake at 280º for 30 minutes. Option: bake biscotti on cooling rack place on baking sheet so as to dry both sides of biscotti. When biscotti feel dry, turn off oven and leave biscotti in oven until cool.

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Pesto Shrimp and Grits

Susan Mintert

  • 1 cup Professor Torbert’s Orange Corn Grits, cooked according to package directions (yields 4 cups cooked grits)
  • 24-32 peeled raw shrimp (more or less, depending on size)
  • Pesto sauce, divided (homemade or store-bought)
  • 1 cup fresh diced tomato (optional)

Measure out 2-3 T. pesto sauce and thin it with a bit of olive oil so it can be easily brushed onto shrimp. Keep this portion separate from the rest of the pesto, since it, and the utensils used, will be in contact with raw shrimp.

Skewer shrimp for grilling. Lightly salt and pepper shrimp, then brush with the thinned pesto sauce. Drizzle with additional olive oil, then cover and refrigerate while cooking grits and preparing grill.

While grits are cooking, preheat grill to medium-high heat (about 400ºF). When grits are done cooking, keep covered on the lowest heat setting to keep warm. (When ready to serve, if grits have become too stiff, simply add a bit of water or milk and stir to loosen up.)

When grill is ready, place skewered shrimp on grill over direct heat. Cook about 3 minutes, then turn over. After 5-6 minutes shrimp should be done. They will be pink and slightly firm to the touch. Do not overcook. Remove from grill.

To serve, spoon a generous bed of grits into individual serving bowls. Top each with 6-8 shrimp and a small dollop of pesto sauce, a few tomatoes, and a good drizzle of olive oil.  Serves 4-6.

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Katie Rocheford (right) with Susan, in Katie’s kitchen
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My supply of orange corn grits