I read Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” when everyone else did, and I recommend it highly. He talks about corn so much that there are pages within upon which the word seems to be printed a hundred times.
It turns out that the corn we know, or at least the ancestor of the corn we know, was probably a mutation of a type of grass that an indigenous north/central American stumbled upon and decided to try it out as dinner, fortunately saving a few seeds to plant and the rest is history.
The earliest corn would probably be barely recognizable to our eyes, and over the years became more like the corn we buy in the fall to use as decoration. Eventually we hybridized the sweet corn that hits our dinner tables in the late summer.
Meanwhile, corn has become a big business, with our farmers growing so much of the stuff that we had to invent high fructose corn syrup to keep up with corn production.
Fact of the matter is, since corn is a new world phenomenon, it is conjectured by some that our European stomachs (which is a lot of stomachs) are not genetically programed to digest corn. Which may be good news to some of us with Latin American roots, but likely this food is too new to our species to be properly digested by anybody.
Nevertheless, there was a time when the family garden included a couple of stalks of sweet corn. The thing to do was to put a pot of water on the stove and as it begins to boil, run to the garden, harvest an ear, shuck it as you run back, and pop it in the pot ASAP. The theory being the freshest sweet corn is the best-flavored and if you keep a salt shaker in your pocket, you can eat an ear of sweet corn raw, in the field. Be careful in that field however; if it isn’t planted in rows then it is “feed” corn, destined to be ground up and fed to the livestock this winter and it is not something you want to eat.
Cut to a sepia-toned summer day when the corn comes in from the market in a brown paper bag and while the grill is getting to temperature, the children are called to shuck the corn. What a thrill it was peel away the squeaky wrapping off the individual ears and pluck away the silk, leaving behind a pile of discarded husks and the pale yellow ears stacked like cordwood.
So why, I have been wondering recently, do the markets nearby allow for the customer to shuck the corn in the aisle of the produce section, leaving behind a garbage can full of corn husks? When did this start and why are depriving our children of this wonderful summer tradition?
And you kids stay off my lawn (possible future mutation of corn).
Still grumpy and I really don’t eat corn-on-the-cob much these days.