Consider the other love affair between humans and corn—a codependent relationship like no other in the natural world.
Mark Boughton Photography / styling by Teresa Blackburn
As you savor an ear of fresh ripe corn, consider the other love affair between humans and corn—a codependent relationship like no other in the natural world. Without human intervention, corn would be extinct. Several thousand years ago, corn’s ancestor underwent what botanists call a “catastrophic sexual mutation” wherein its female organs moved to an enclosed ear at the center of its stalk. This peculiar arrangement produces abundant kernels, but prevents self-seeding—it takes an opposable thumb to pluck the seeds and plant them.
Native Americans became the world’s first plant breeders, developing thousands of cultivars and spreading the plant they called maize from Central Mexico to North America in the centuries before Columbus came to the New World. But if corn was dependant on man, man was equally dependent on corn—in Mexico, for example, 40 percent of the average person’s caloric intake comes directly from corn.
When English colonists arrived in the Americas, “corn” was their generic term for cereal grain—or a grain of pretty much anything—hence “corned beef” for salted beef, and “peppercorn” for a nub of pepper. When Squanto taught Pilgrims to plant maize, they dubbed it “Indian corn,” and eventually Americans dropped the “Indian.”
Colonists may have muddled its name, but they quickly recognized its value. This single plant supplied a ready-to-eat vegetable and a long-storing grain. Kernels were made into hominy (another trick learned from natives) and dried for flour. Husks became rugs and twine, leaves became silage, cobs became fuel, and grain became whiskey.
—By Jo Marshall, a food writer in Deephaven, Minn.
Sweet Corn and Tomato Salad
Did you know you can boil corn while still in its husks? It’s easier to shuck post boiling, and helps keep the kernels tender. The chunky herbed vinaigrette is packed with flavor.
Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread
Aged extra-sharp Cheddar adds rich flavor, buttermilk adds tenderness, and jalapenos add gentle heat to an irresistible cornbread.
Chicken and Fresh Corn Enchilada Bake
A yummy chicken dish that can be tossed together just about any way. Great use for your fresh corn but be sure to use corn tortillas that stand up to sauce.
Quick Creamy Corn Chowder
A new take on a classic recipe this recipe uses common items to create a creamy blend for a cold day.