Navigate the rows of the mighty maize with this primer
By Catharine Kaufman
What better way to salute America on the Fourth of July than to rejoice with one of the staple crops of the fledgling nation – corn.
Corn of Plenty
Squanto was the Native American savior of the New England colonists. He taught them to use the Iroquois’ “Three Sisters” method of planting. A pioneer of sustainable farming, Squanto believed the trio of corn (then called maize), beans, and squash were precious gifts from the Great Spirit, each sister an equal farming partner for fertilizing the soil and helping the others thrive.
The maize crop was the “tall sister,” the one who had been specially cultivated to grow enough food to sustain a family for an entire year without harming the environment.
A bumper crop of locally grown juicy sweet corncobs overflows at farmers markets in time for July 4th feasts. Popular varieties include the white-pearly Silver Queen, yellow-kernelled Golden Bantam, and the bi-color checkerboard-patterned Ambrosia Hybrid. Super Sweet and sugary-enhanced hybrid varieties have been developed with higher than normal levels of sugar (12-20 percent), the latter divinely creamy and tender with a true old-fashioned corn flavor.
Dent corn characterized by an indentation in each kernel is used for animal feed and industrial needs, while hard-shelled Flint corn, aka Indian Corn, which comes in designer shades of indigo blue and rusty red, is used to make popcorn, cornmeal or for ornamental purposes.
Cream of Corn
Corn is a multi-tasking, gluten-free grain masquerading as a veggie. Although high in carbohydrates, corn is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, and is an antioxidant warrior with a motherload of dietary fiber, thiamin and folate.
Although most of corn’s calories come from carbs, it can be made into a low-fat, high-fiber, heart-healthy snack like popcorn, minus the salt and butter, of course.
Two corn warnings: It must be cooked (our guts can’t break down the hearty cellulose in raw kernels) and corn also tends to cause mild inflammation because of blood sugar spikes. Standing advice: moderation.
Lost in a Maize
There has been a lot of controversy about Bt corn, short for the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, which has been used to genetically modify corn’s DNA to impart an internal insecticide mechanism that repels pests.
Corn has also been hit with another toxin called Roundup, so that it can withstand weed herbicides without succumbing itself. Since conventional corn has been clobbered with this double chemical whammy, best to buy unadulterated organic over Frankenstein corn.
• 400,000 farms from the Corn Belt to California produce nearly 10 billion bushels a year to make corn America’s top field crop;
• Each ear is packed with 800 kernels in 16 rows;
• Corn is an ingredient in more than 3,000 supermarket products, including distilled spirits, sweeteners, starches and soaps;
• The world corn-eating record? 33 ½ ears in 12 minutes.
Sweet & Smoky American-Style Corn on the Cob
(Where possible, use organics)
• 8 ears of corn
• 1/2 cup maple syrup, dark amber
• 1/3 cup unsalted butter
• 2 garlic cloves, smashed
• 2 chipotle peppers, smashed
• Sea salt and cayenne pepper to taste
Method: Leave husks intact and soak corn in water for 1 hour. In a small saucepan, combine ingredients and heat on low until butter is melted. Keep warm. Pull husks down, remove silk, and then pull husks up. Cook on medium grill, turning constantly until tender (about 20 minutes). Remove the husks and slather with warm maple butter.
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