Corn or maize is the “mother grain” of the Americas. ‘Maize‘ derives from the Spanish form (maíz) of the Arawak Native American term for the plant. In North America and Australia, it’s known as ‘corn‘ which is a shortened form of ‘Indian corn‘.
Archaeological studies indicate that corn was first cultivated by the primitive peoples of Mesoamerica at least 5600 years ago.
In Corn – Its Origin, Evolution and Improvement, Paul Mangelsdorf explains how
This unique grain – it has no close counterpart elsewhere in the plant kingdom – exists only in association with man, and it survives only as a result of his intervention. Thus, the story of corn is in many ways a story about people.
Corn or maize was the primary starch for Native Americans for centuries. The kernels were boiled or fried, or ground to cornmeal after drying.
This mano and matete, traditionally used to grind corn, were excavated at the Mesa Verde site in Colorado. These implements are still used in many Native American households. This dried ear of corn, from the same site, is atleast 1500 years old.
Cornsilks had an important part to play in folk medicine. Cornhusks would become masks, sleeping mats, baskets, shoes or dolls. (Cornhusk dolls)
The cob inside was used to make darts, to burn as fuel, or made into ceremonial rattling sticks.
Popul Vuh, which is the treatise of Mayan legend and history, describes corn as the ‘spirit of life’. Humans, they believed, were created from sacred corn, by the deities. Those suffering from a severe illness were fed corn alone, in the belief that their health would be restored.
Similar mythology linking corn to creation reverberates through other Native American lore.
Corn (maize) was one of the first imports from the Old World to the New. Today, corn supplies a fifth of the world’s food calories.
Archeological evidence from China and southern India, “both dated before the 15th century A.D., suggests that this domesticated crop was diffused by human action before the arrival of Columbus in the New World. The implications of this evidence are of great magnitude, since the presence of maize in Asia indicates that humans were able to migrate between both hemispheres; more than likely through trans-oceanic means of travel.”
Why do corn kernels have an array of colours?
Corn kernels have different colors because of genes that control color. Each kernel is an individual with its own set of genes, like an embryo. Kernels are siblings housed on the same ear and so naturally have many different colors…
One-color ears are unnatural products of human selection.
Livestock feeders prefer vitamin-rich yellow kernels, Southerners like white kernels, and Native Americans favor blue. Years of deliberate selection, careful pollination, and storing of seeds produced these single-color corn ears…
Some studies suggest corn pigments promote resistance to insects or fungi that invade an ear of corn…
Corn/maize is an annual that looks like tall grass.
The number of silks per ear of corn is equal to the number of kernels on the cob. Each silk is pollinated to produce one kernel of corn. (Corn pollination: the process)
The little tails at the end of each kernel are where the silks were attached.
Native Americans use the term “Three Sisters” to describe their way of life, as well as the sustainable gardening techinique developed and practised over the centuries.
According to Iroquois legend, corn, beans, and squash are three inseparable sisters who only grow and thrive together. This tradition of interplanting corn, beans and squash in the same mounds, widespread among Native American farming societies, is a sophisticated, sustainable system that provided long-term soil fertility and a healthy diet to generations. Growing a Three Sisters garden is a wonderful way to feel more connected to the history of this land, regardless of our ancestry.
It’s a symbiotic relationship. The corn stalk supports the vines of the bean stalk. The huge squash leaves provide a ground cover to keep the soil moist for the corn and for itself. The beans provide the nitrogen to the soil that the corn needs for healthy growth.
Popcorn from Indian corn kernels
We discovered, in the process of making popcorn, that all the kernels, irrespective of colour, have white endosperm (the soft, starchy part inside). Hence, the popcorn ends up looking like regular popcorn.
Most Indian corn ears sold today are for decorative purposes. They even come with the warning, “Do not consume”.
What’s the truth?
Indian corn is not poisonous, is edible and is an extremely hard corn; it’s a variety called flint corn (Zea mays indurata).
Flint corn (usually of the yellow or white variety) is what is used for popcorn, and its flour is used to make tortillas.
The only Indian corn not safe for consumption is the type to which fragrance has been added for pot pourries and similar decorations.
How to make Microwave Popcorn
Put the corn kernels in a brown paper bag in the microwave. Or in a covered bowl. It took us between two and three minutes on HIGH. If you want to add spices or flavourings, spray them lightly with oil. We ate them neat, no salt, no spices. They were nutty and flavourful. We found that Indian corn kernels have a lower pop rate than yellow or white regular yellow or white flint corn kernels.
We plan to save some of the kernels and sow them next year.