Thursday, August 05, 2004
"Mon Dieu, Therèse, cherie, what are these long green things?"
"They're corn, dammit. You just peel'em like bananas and chow down."
COUNTRY STUFF. It's inevitable that pampered millionaires are going to make fools of themselves from time to time when they seek to rub shoulders with us commoners. It happened yesterday in Iowa, where both Kerry and Bush were trying so hard to demonstrate their solidarity with the ordinary citizens whose votes they need if they are to secure the most powerful office in the world. The agent of humiliation in both cases was corn. Monsieur Kerry seemed to be overwhelmed by the very existence of this ubiquitous vegetable, brandishing 'ears' as if they were rustic sceptres awarded him by adoring peasants. To prevent any reoccurrence of this faux pas, we are forwarding the following little exegesis on the history of corn to the Democratic National Committee. We hope they take advantage of this opportunity to educate Mr. Kerry about a subject he might find useful in campaign visits to come. (NOTE TO INSTAPUNK READERS: You don't need to read the text word for word; it has been chosen especially to be as dry and academic as the towering intellectuals of the people's party prefer their reading to be.)
Over a period of thousands of
years, Native Americans purposefully transformed maize through special
cultivation techniques. Maize was developed from a wild grass
(Teosinte) originally growing in Central America (southern Mexico)
7,000 years ago. The ancestral kernels of Teosinte looked very
different from today's corn. These kernels were small and were not
fused together like the kernels on the husked ear of early maize and
By systematically collecting and cultivating those plants best suited for human consumption, Native Americans encouraged the formation of ears or cobs on early maize. The first ears of maize were only a few inches long and had only eight rows of kernels. Cob length and size of early maize grew over the next several thousand years which gradually increased the yields of each crop.
Eventually the productivity of maize cultivation was great enough to make it possible and worthwhile for a family to produce food for the bulk of their diet for an entire year from a small area. Although maize agriculture permitted a family to live in one place for an extended period of time, the commitment to agriculture involved demands on human time and labor and often restricted human mobility. The genetic alterations in teosinte changed its value as a food resource and at the same time affected the human scheduling necessary for its effective procurement.
Native Americans of New England planted corn in household gardens and in more extensive fields adjacent to their villages. Fields were often cleared by controlled burning which enriched not only the soil but the plant and animal communities as well. Slash and burn agriculture also helped create an open forest environment, free of underbrush, which made plant collecting and hunting easier.
Native Americans discovered that,
unlike wild plants and animals, a surplus of maize could be grown and
harvested without harming their environment. Tribes in southern New
England harvested great amounts of maize and dried them in heaps upon
mats. The drying piles of maize, usually two or three for each
Narragansett family, often contained from 12 to 20 bushels of the
grain. Surplus maize would be stored in underground storage pits,
ingeniously constructed and lined with grasses to prevent mildew or
spoiling, for winter consumption of the grain.
George, on the other hand, appears to have some slight idea about
what corn is; he just doesn't know anything about eating it. For
example, even in Iowa, they don't generally consume it raw. So we're
sending this recipe -- courtesy of the Fanny Farmer
website -- to the Republican National Committee in hopes they'll find
someone to prepare and serve some corn on the cob to the
Texan-in-Chief, who has probably never seen a bright green field full
of plants that a human being would want to eat.
There is nothing like fresh corn on the cob, quickly boiled, spread with lots of sweet butter, and sprinkled with salt. Two ears per person may seem like a proper serving, but appetites run high when corn is in season and freshly picked. Click here for information about choosing and handling corn.
Just before cooking, husk
the corn, pull off the silky threads, and cut out any blemishes with a
pointed knife. Drop the corn into a large pot filled with boiling
salted water. Cover the pot and let the water return to a boil again,
then turn off the heat and keep the pot covered. After about 5 minutes,
remove enough ears for a first serving. You can keep the remaining corn
warm in the water for another 10 minutes without its becoming tough.
Serve with lots of butter and salt.
Everyone in both parties says they wants to win Iowa.
Well, if the Dems and the GOP are serious about that, they'd better
learn that this particular state is a gridwork of roads at right angles
to one another, subdividing a giant field of corn. Learn what it is, learn
how to cook it and eat it, and you'll have a shot at wooing the voters.
You might also be the beneficiary of a marvelous bit of wisdom:
eating freshly cooked corn on the cob with an ocean of butter and a
half ton of salt is a bit of heaven. But don't tell the Iowans you
found all this out from a native of the place where the very best sweet
corn in the world is grown -- southern New Jersey. Unfortunately, all
that midwestern corn tastes like dirt and is only good for feeding the
pigs. That's something the jayhawks would probably rather not know.