Real Food Origins: Corn

It’s one of the most anticipated vegetables of the summer season here in New England: fresh corn, grown locally, harvested the same day it’s greedily piled into a canvas bag, a dozen ears at a time, and sampled immediately once home, by lustfully tearing away its modest, supple green husk to reveal the tender, yellow kernels beneath, and sinking teeth into the raw cob, sweet juice running down the chin.

Corn-on-the-cob is one of those quintessential “All-American” foods, seen at barbecues, clambakes, and family gatherings all summer long, particularly if TV advertising is to be believed. Corn is famously one of the foodstuffs that Native Americans shared with the European immigrants to North American shores hundreds of years ago. But corn, or maize as it is called virtually everywhere but the U.S., is not native to the U.S. or even North America.

Maize was first cultivated by the inhabitants of Central and South America, thousands of years ago. During those thousands of years, it was bred to select traits that made the ears longer, more numerous on the stalk, and progressively more tender and sweet. It arrived in the area now known as the United States with migrating Central and South Americans around 2100 BC, and was traded and cultivated widely throughout the Americas for hundreds of years before a single European set foot here.

Corn can be pressed for oil, dried and ground for cornmeal/polenta, soaked in an alkaline solution, to create hominy and grits, or dried and ground for the tortilla flour masa. It can be processed into a sweet syrup, and made into feed for livestock.

Right now though, you want to eat it while it is sweet, juicy, and fine, right off the cob, or make some fabulous soups and salads with it. Type “corn” in the search bar, and check out some great recipes using corn.

 

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