My Bavarian friend used to say about corn, "Ve fid it to ze peeks!" in such a hilarious voice!
--from Robin Little.
"Up from the meadows rich with corn, Clear in the cool
--John Greenleaf Whittier,
in Barbara Frietchie
Sex is good, but not as good as fresh sweet corn
--Garrison Keillor, author of The Prairie Home Companion
"I expand and live in the warm day like corn and melons"
--Ralph Waldo Emerson
"From the United States every year a kind friend sent a little packet of sweet-corn seed grown and gathered by his mother. It was a great treat for us. At that time there was no table corn in France. The French grew corn for animals--in the Bugey, for the chickens. When it was known that we were growing it and eating it, they considered us savages. No one was seduced by the young ears we gave them to taste."
--Alice B. Toklas
About Kentucky, "Where the corn is full of kernels
And the colonels full of corn"
--William James Lampton (1859-1917), Kentucky
America, from a grain
of maize you grew
with spacious lands
A grain of maize was your geography.
From the grain
a green lance rose,
was covered with gold,
to grace the heights
of Peru with its yellow tassels.
But, poet, let
history rest in its shroud;
praise with your lyre
the grain in its granaries:
sing to the simple maize in the kitchen.
First, a fine beard
fluttered in the field
above the tender teeth
of the young ear.
Then the husks parted
and fruitfulness burst its veils
of pale papyrus
that grains of laughter
might fall upon the earth.
To the stone,
in your journey, you returned.
Not to the terrible stone,
triangle of Mexican death,
but to the grinding stone,
stone of our kitchens.
There, milk and matter,
you were worked and patted
by the wondrous hands
of dark-skinned women.
Wherever you fall, maize,
whether into the splendid pot of partridge, or among
country beans, you light up
the meal and lend it
your virginal flavor.
Oh, to bite into
the steaming ear beside the sea
of distant song and deepest waltz.
To boil you
as your aroma
But is there
to your treasure?
In chalky, barren lands
by the sea, along
the rocky Chilean coast,
only your radiance
reaches the empty
table of the miner.
Your light, your cornmeal, your hope
pervades America's solitudes,
and to hunger
are enemy legions.
Within your husks,
like gentle kernels,
our sober provincial
children's hearts were nurtured,
until life began
to shuck us from the ear.
--Pablo Neruda's "Ode to Corn," translated by M.S. Peden from "Oda al Maíz"
Corn probably originated as a type of gigantic grass growing on slopes of the Andes.
Pueblo Elders in Southwest America, however, take it straight back to the beginning of Time: they say that in the beginning, when People were just about ready to step upon Mother Earth, their Creator gave them one last gift--corn, 4 kinds of corn. Yellow corn, associated with the South, the home of the grandmothers and grandfathers who give spring and new life. Red corn, from the West, that gives long life as our spirits travel westward with the sun. White corn, from the North, which gives strength. And Blue corn, from the East and the rising sun, that brings wisdom and understanding. He told the People to be corn's caretakers and showed them how to plant, harvest, and use the corn for food, medicine, and prayer.
Even so, cultivated forms of the original Andes grass spread throughout all the Americas in pre-Columbian times. In fact, Columbus' crew sighted fields of corn stretching 18 miles long on the island of Cuba.
And, thank goodness, it was cultivated in New England by Native Americans by the time the Pilgrims arrived and nearly starved to death their first year in America. Corn was a most welcome guest at their first Thanksgiving table in 1621. Earlier than that, in 1612, French explorers in the Great Lakes region repoorted that the Iroquois popped corn in pottery vessels with heated sand and then used it to make soup.
Cotton Mather, 17th century Puritan clergyman in New England, recorded the first observation of the sexuality of corn, when he noticed that the windward side of a neighbor's corn planting (the side most exposed to pollen from other fields) developed multicolored cobs, while the rest of the planting was yellow.
Corn continued to be critically important food source for pioneers as they pressed westward into the North American continent--especially in the form of hominy. This hulled corn--still known by its Algonquin name--was made by soaking the grains in wood lye until the hulls came free and floated to the top--then washing and boiling them until tender.
At the same time, corn was resisted for centuries by the Old World. Although it started off with a fair reception in England, it fell completely out of favor in 1847, when it was given to the English and Irish poor. Although they were starving, they refused to eat the indigestible varietal the'd been given--calling it Peel's brimstone, after Prime Minister Robert Peel.
And here's another story about indigestible corn, with a moral twist, told by a learned Buddhist monk in 19th century Burma:
Prologue: The rains were late, and the worried farmers offered special
alms food to the Thitseint Sayadaw and other monks. One of the farmers
remarked, " As all the great monks present here are truly pious, rain
must fall soon." The Thitseint Sayadaw smiled and said, "We hope the
rains will come soon, but, if they do not come, do not put the whole
blame on us." Then he proceeded to tell the farmers about the Lay
Brother who was fond of eating corn on the cob.
The village monastery was situated at the edge of a cornfield, and
the Lay Brother of the monastery was so fond of eating roasted
corn on the cob that one night he stole some corn from the field.
However, when he roasted and ate the corn, he found it tasteless.
He felt that he had been cheated of his rights, and the next morning
he went to the farmer and scolded him, "You are a good-for-nothing
farmer. Obviously you do not know how to select good seedlings,
you do not know how to plant them, and you do not know how to
water them. No wonder your corn is so poor." "I did my best," ex-
plained the Farmer. "But, Lay Brother, look at the cracks in the
ground, and you will see how parched it is."
The Lay Brother walked across the field, and, observing the
cracks in the ground, exclaimed, "The Earth Goddess is a good-for-nothing female! She is to be blamed for the poor taste of the corn."
The Earth Goddess made herself visible and protested, "Lay
Brother, the ground is by nature fertile, but as rainfall has been
scanty this year, what can I do?" The Lay Brother paused to consider the matter, and then he agreed that the Earth Goddess was
not blameworthy. He looked up into the sky and shouted, "This
Rain God is a good-for-nothing fellow! If he had dropped a little
more rain on the field, the corn would have been wonderful." The
Rain God now made himself visible and explained, "Lay Brother,
do you not know that rains fall abundantly in a country only when
its king is just and righteous?" The Lay Brother after some thought
exonerated the Rain God from blame and went back to the monastery.
For days the Lay Brother brooded over the matter and finally he
marched off to the golden city and sought an audience with the
King. When he was brought before the King he blurted out, "The
fields are parched and cracked, and the corn tastes like wood, because there is a drought. And there is a drought because your
Majesty is not a just and righteous King."
"Lay Brother," replied the King, ''I am just and righteous, but that is not enough to
bring abundant rain. The people themselves have to be just and
righteous also. Lay Brother," the King went on, "are you sure that
you are just and righteous yourself?"
Only then did the Lay Brother
realize that, as he was a common thief, he did not deserve to eat
Ever notice that every ear of corn has an even number of rows? And that there's one filament of silk for every kernel of corn? If you're dying to know more about corn cultivation, visit the Iowa State agronomy department.
Or try out this Katherine Hepburn story, recounted in Garson Kanin's Tracy and Hepburn:
I had never before seen anyone eat raw corn. At Faraway Meadows, in Connecticut, our famer had planted a small cornfield. Kate wanted to see it. She examined the stalks carefully, admiringly, stopped, tore an ear of corn from a stalk, shucked it expertly, and began to eat it. "What are you doing?" I asked. "Eating corn," she said, "Why?" "Like that?" "Best way," she replied, "if it's fresh--ten minutes off the stalk and its no good raw." She prepared another ear and offered it to me. "No, thanks." She ate it herself. I had refused only because I was afraid she might be right. The next morning I went out into the field myself and tried it. She had been right.