Some of the ears are bursting. A white juice works inside. Cornsilk creeps in the end and dangles in the wind. Always—I never knew it any other way— The wind and the corn talk things over together. And the rain and the corn and the sun and the corn Talk things over together.
From Laughing Corn by Carl Sandburg
Instead of opening by complaining about this stifling hot week (surely there will be many more to complain about this summer), we decided to look at the full half of the cob and discuss corn- the unchallenged knight of summer!
This year, corn takes up a good part of our field. In previous years I wrote about the misfortune of having to cut down on corn plot planting for lack of space, and about us not having allowed the fields to rest enough in order to gear up for a demanding corn crop. Mistakes we made in watering and seeding were additional factors in the final miniscule corn crop we managed to muster. Last year we started improving, and this year we expanded the amount of seeding by about 50%, so we can now happily place more sweet yellow cobs in your boxes.
We start seeding the corn in the middle of March. Every two weeks, we insert two beds (4 lines) of yellow, hard and wrinkled seeds into the earth. When I say we “insert” them, I mean it, because after many attempts to seed the corn with a seeder, we realized that the best way is still to do it by hand. We notch furrows in the earth and scatter the seeds at a distance of 10-15 cm apart. Afterwards, we cover the furrow, water it, and start praying for healthy growth.
Two weeks after the first sweet corn seeding, we seed popcorn, which produces strong, beautiful plants that grow slower and have special brown-purple cornsilk. Popcorn requires a few more weeks to become cobs. Then it remains longer on the stalk in order to dry up some more. Last year our popcorn was consumed by many “uninvited guests,” but this year it’s upright and happy—with funky purple hair already adorning its head. We’re in hopes of a good yield of yummy, rambunctious, jumpy produce.
We only seed the popcorn once, in two long beds. The sweet corn, however, is planted repeatedly to maintain a continuous supply from summer to autumn. Two weeks after the first seeding, we seed two more beds, wait another week and then do two more. Two weeks later we start the whole process over, thus each month a dunam (about 1/4 of an acre) of sweet corn is planted.
The corn from the first seeding in mid-March is what we’re including in your boxes now. It started ripening last week, three months after it was planted. We now discover once more that for some reason the produce of the first seeding suffers more than subsequent plantings and simply does not develop as well. It may be due to our super-sweet corn being sensitive to the winter chill. Either way, a quick look at the four-bed plots in the field reflects the difference between the first seeding, that looks sparser, shorter and weaker, and the other seedings that are developing in a healthier, greener, stronger and more erect manner.
Within the corn beds you can actually get lost. At a farm I worked in California, each year they would plant a huge corn maze where everyone, young and old, would love getting lost in during the October Halloween festival. Here is a glimpse at the wonderful feeling of being deep inside a corn bed:
I mentioned the type of corn we grow, the super-sweet variety (our specific type is called “Helena”). This incredibly tasty corn is actually the result of a mutation! Corn is a cereal crop. From the moment it ripens and is picked off the plant, an internal process occurs where the sugars turn into starch. During this process, corn loses its sweetness and becomes floury and starchy. Most of the corn seeded in the world is not even sweet (field/dent corn), but is produced primarily for animal feed, to produce cornflower, and for industrial uses such as ethanol for gas, for the plastic industry, for corn oil and various other additives. This field corn is actually the ancient corn variety that was grown in Southern and Central America thousands of years ago.
A main advantage of corn is that it is unstable. It is a crop that is genetically sensitive to mutations and changes that occur in nature, which makes it an honored guest within the annals of scientific research (corn plants were instrumental in reaching some of the most important discoveries in genetics, like the Transposons). A side benefit is the wide, dynamic spectrum of different colors, shapes and tastes of corn varieties. Here are some examples:
Sweet corn (su) has been known in western civilization from 1770. It is not clear when this natural mutation first occurred, but it caused the storing of a double amount of sugar in the storage tissue (endosperm) of the seed. There are hundreds of sweet corn varieties in this group.
Over the past few decades, two other groups of corn were developed, both based on mutants that occurred naturally in the corn which were then carefully developed to create stable varieties for agricultural use. One is the sugary enhanced (se) corn, boasting higher sugar content than traditional sweet corn, which is why, when refrigerated, it retains sweetness 2-4 days after harvest. The second group is the super-sweet corn (sh2), three times sweeter than the other types. And most important here, the process of the sugar turning to starch is much slower, allowing it to remain sweet up to ten days after harvest (when refrigerated). This has, of course, many advantages, specifically when dealing with export to distant markets—but we can enjoy these nice mutants on the same day they are picked: triply sweet and fresh.
And before I sign off, in a little research I conducted for this newsletter, I finally solved the mystery of corn’s Hebrew name. In different languages, corn was granted respectable names: the first to bring corn to Europe were the Spanish, and they gave it a name based on the local Taino: mahis in Taino, maize in Spanish. The meaning in Taino is “the seed that gives life.” The Latin name continued this theme, calling it Zea (life giver) mays.
When corn emigrated to Europe, it received its dull, listless name corn that was a generic name for grains (even salt grains, hence “corned beef”), and the derogatory title Turkey Wheat, Turkey/Egyptian Corn or Indian Corn. Apparently, they were not referring to the origins of the grain, but rather saying that this is an uncultivated, wild, barbaric grain, as compared to “polite” cultured European grains. The Hebrew name tiras was given based on the English Turkey Corn. The word tiras is mentioned in the Bible in the books of Genesis and Chronicles. Tiras was Jefeth’s seventh son (Noah’s grandson). Scholars identified Tiras as the father of the Turkish nation (Tractate Yoma), which is why the “Turkish” grain was rewarded by the name.
So its unmotivated name certainly does not reflect the sweet, positive nature of this wonderful grain, upon which the world of South American natives was once so dependent. And perhaps the come-down of the name from “life giving” to “wild grain” somewhat reflects the devaluation of this outstanding plant in the western world. Today, too, we are dependent upon it in every realm, especially food: Almost every processed food contains corn, but of a very limited genetically-engineered variety that appears in its processed, worn and abused form, totally bereft of nutritional value and pumped with excess energy investment. Corn starch for thickening and gluing, corn syrup for sweetening, expansion materials, emulsifiers, food coloring, citric acid— all are derived from corn, as well as most of the animal fodder in the meat industry. Corn also serves a role in the production of plastic and oil. (Those who wish to learn more about corn and food in our world are highly recommended to read Michael Pollans’ The Omnivore’s Dilemma.)
All of these applications are very distant from corn’s original glamour, with so many uses that were less processed and messy: eating it fresh or cooked, drying the cob and grinding it into flour, pounding the fresh grains to produce polenta- a wet corn porridge (see recipe below); decorating the house with colorful strings of corn, fashioning cornhusk dolls, popping it for popcorn, feeding animals the cobs, etc. The earliest corn consumers soon learned that corn had many other advantages, using corn stalks for building, fishing, etc., as well as weaving mats and baskets from cornhusks, creating masks, moccasins and toys.
We’re delighted to present your summer boxes with the Taino Mahis in its original, fresh, nutritious and life-giving form.
Have a great week! Keep cool… Alon, Bat Ami and the Chubeza team______________________________________________
This week in our joyful summer boxes:
Monday: cucumbers & fakus, zucchini, corn / eggplants, potatoes, watermelon, tomatoes, cilantro, Swiss chard, lettuce, acorn winter squash, green beans / green lubia
In the large box, in addition: basil / mint, beets, kaboch winter squash
Fruit box: cherries, apples, grapes. In the large fruit box: an additional melon.
Wednesday: zucchini, cilantro, tomatoes, leek, green onions, potatoes, lettuce, acorn winter squash, Musquee de Provence pumpkin, cucumbers & fakus, green bean / green lubia
In the large box, in addition: eggplants / kabocha winter squash, Swiss chard, watermelon / butternut squash, Soyo long Asian cucumber
Rotem sent me this suggestion for preparing polenta from fresh corn: -Scald 4 ears of corn; separate the kernels from the cob. -Crush in blender. -Lightly cook the puree with some type of liquid (stock, milk, cream, or even coconut milk) and a bit of grated cheese (kashkaval and the like) -If desired, top with chopped scallions or several basil sprigs, depending on what comes in the box. Swiss chard and spinach should also go well.
(For cooks who prefer more detailed quantities, ingredients and instructions, search “Polenta from fresh corn” online.) For example: Fresh Corn “Polenta” With Oyster Mushrooms