Hopefully, Indian Corn is not a name that is offensive. If anything, Indian, or Flint Corn, has been around for centuries and has saved hungry populations around the world.
Corn, as we know it, is not a wild, native plant. It is a hybrid made from Teosinte, a form of wild Mexican grass. Corn is an American original. This grass was domesticated over 10,000 years ago. Originally, it was planted with other grasses to be used as forage crop for animals. When the plant hybridized with other grasses, small cobs began to show up. These cobs were only several kernels in size, but with more time and support, larger cobs were produced.
Columbus is given credit for bringing corn back to Europe. He found it on several offshore islands, in the late 1400’s. Columbus never set foot in America. Sugar cane is also a crop that Columbus took back to Europe. It is said that no Cancer existed in Europe until sugar and corn were introduced into the diet of Europeans. This may be true, but Cancer was also an unknown. Their primitive medical knowledge may have also overlooked cancer for generations.
Jamestown and the John Smith story most likely brought Corn back to Europe. He also took tobacco and several other native crops back with him. This was common for explorers. Today, Corn is found in China, India, and most cultures.
Indian corn was not grown for decorations. It was made to eat. Also known as Flint Corn, Maize was a hearty and tough crop. It was hard like the stone known as Flint. The kernels could be kept for several months. Todays, Dent Corn tends to rot quickly. You notice a dent in the kernel as it begins to decay in just a week or so after harvest.
Corn is relatively easy to grow. Since it is a grass, water was critical for a good yield. One cob can produce many seeds for next season’s crop. The cobs and silage can be fed to livestock. Cobs were also used for sanitary, toilet needs, and insulation.
Today’s common corn is also known as Sweet Corn or Field Corn. Dent, or Field Corn is grown for livestock feed or other products. Ground Corn is used a sanding abrasive for air blasting and sanding. A healthy stalk of corn can produce several large cobs. Farmers plant corn in rows for easy harvesting but this was not done until machines were used to cut the crops. Originally, corn was simply scattered into a plowed field. Pumpkins and squash were also planted in the corn fields to support the stalks and consolidate the fall harvests.
Corn needs large amounts of nutrients to grow, just like grass. Early people often dumped fish, manure, and other detritus into their fields to promote growth. Other crops like clovers and alfalfa would restore nutrients to the soil when the fields were rotated. Incan and Mayan cultures would add animal and human blood to each plant as a ritual to add nutrient to the plants. Corn had become a major component of their diets.
Maize could be ground into meal, flour, or used as popcorn. Since it came in many colors, corn could be called Blue Corn or Strawberry Corn. Entire cobs were carried with migrating tribes and used when needed. Native peoples would Par Boil corn in water for 12 hours. Once it was boiled and dried, it could be pounded into a usable meal or flour. Powder became flour, small bits became meal, and larger bits were ground again. Hominy and Polenta are also made from corn. The diversity of uses is what has made corn so important.
Today, 75% of our grocery staples has corn in them. Cereal, Ethanol, pharmaceuticals, fabrics, makeup, explosives, paper goods, and paint are all made using corn. Indian bread, porridge, and Jonny Cakes were common ways to prepare the corn. Pemmican was made by adding dried meat and berries to the corn and cooked into a cookie or cake. These cakes could last for months. Baskets of any corn surplus would be cached in caves for the next year.
Today we use Maize as a symbol of Harvest Season. Cobs are much larger than ever before. The colored kernels provide decoration for homes. You could use these kernels as popcorn or grind them up but make sure that the stores have not sprayed a clear lacquer on them to make them shiny.
Ironically, Indian Corn comes in 3 primary colors, Red White, and Blue. There is no information that I found to confirm that nations used these colors in their national flags, but Corn certainly helped to build nations. Many South and North American flags highlight these colors. The same can be said about European, African, and Asian flags.
Voting was another use for Maize. Voting barrels in 1623 were set up to decide upon political offices. Elections, and agendas. Corn kernels were added to the ‘YES” barrel and dried Beans were added to the “No” barrel. Cobs went to the outhouse, pig pen, or animal food. After the election was decided, the beans and corn became Succotash! All voters would enjoy the meal and discuss the future together. Nothing went to waste.
Corn in North America comes from the grass known as Zea Mays. When corn was originally grown, eating it was seen as demeaning and undignified. Only poor folks were including it into their diets. Wealthy people though corn was for the poor people and animals. Ironically, other delicacies like lobsters, crabs, and pork were also seen as poor people food or food for slaves. The French and Spaniards were offended by eating corn products.
Today cereal is an abundant use for corn. It is hard to find something in our stores that does not have some form of corn in them. Corn Starch, corn meal, oil, flour, and many other products use corn to prepare them.
Indian Corn, Maize, and Flint Corn are sold at most stores and Fall harvest events. Even Pop Corn can be purchased on the cob. I once hunted Geese and Ducks in a harvested Maize or popcorn field. When I was retrieving our downed geese, I noticed small cobs that were missed by the combine. The multicolored cobs were only 5-7 inches long. I picked a bushel of these cobs and hung them in my garage all winter. Popcorn was a fun snack!
Enjoy the great decorations of colorful Indian Corn this season.
For more Montana Grant, find him popping corn at www.montanagrantfishing.com.