Though it’s a little early for an actual “Autumn” breeze, the recent tropical storms created blustery conditions that mimicked what is hopefully just around the corner. Cornstalks rustled and shimmered from Marco and Laura, however they didn’t deliver the chilly temperatures that a true front from the north brings with it. Giant combines gobbled up fodder ahead of the hurricanes, delivering golden kernels of corn to trucks headed for storage bins. If only the aroma of smoke from a weathered hearth could have been detected across these fields of amber. Then, the essence of fall may have truly been in the air. I can only think ahead, for those days so anticipated, are yet to come.
As I observed the fast pace of modern agriculture, I noticed flakes of flint and chert scattered upon the topsoil. This indication of a civilization and a culture thousands of years ago stirred my feeble brain to contemplate. I began to ask questions from within. There was a high probability that we aren’t the first to grow corn on these fertile soils. I wondered if the people who inhabited this land many centuries ago also looked to the skies above and appreciated the rustling cornstalks as they harvested their bounty for winter. Though their agenda was for survival, as ours is, their commodity was produced primarily for immediate and local consumption rather than being shipped all over the world for monetary gains.
Corn varieties grown by Native Americans varied greatly from what we grow today. Indian corn (Zea mays var. indurata), also known as flint corn or calico corn, produces an ear of multicolored kernels. Most of us are accustomed to seeing a solid cob of yellow kernels. Indian corn typically has a calico pattern of blue, ruby, black, and other colored kernels on the cob. There are some varieties of Indian corn that produce solid ears of one color. Today these varieties are grown primarily for their decorative attributes.
Indian corn is thought to have evolved from a wild Mexican grass known as teosinte. Dating back to over ten thousand years, this corn isn’t exclusive to the North American continent. History indicates it was also grown in China, South America, and India. Of course, indigenous people could have cared less about the decorative aspects of their corn. They produced it to eat. Because flint corn is very “starchy” it has a very low water content. Because of this, it is more resistant to freezing than other vegetables. It is documented that this variety of corn was the only crop to survive New England’s “Year Without a Summer” of 1816. This was due to a volcano, Mount Tambora, erupting for four months delivering ash and aerosols that blocked sunlight resulting in shading and frost for most of the growing season. Indian corn survived.
I have always been intrigued with the colors of Indian maize. My mother would decorate our home for fall and this unique corn was one of the staples. Maybe this is one of the reasons why October is my favorite month of the year. Of course, the ears complimented the pumpkins, ornamental squash, sugarcane, and the scarecrows, that she so ornately arranged. The sugarcane had to be replenished quite frequently as neighborhood boys with pocketknives would routinely help themselves to a “chew.” She didn’t mind at all, as she enjoyed it as much as we did. Come to think of it, her endeavors also reminded us that squirrel season and Halloween was just around the corner as well.
Indian corn will begin to fill the shelves at local grocers, farmer’s markets, and county festivals soon. That is, if we are even able to attend festivals and fairs! I am quite certain you will run across some ears somewhere. Some of my favorite varieties include Hopi Blue, Autumn Splendor, Bear Island Chippewa, and Seneca Red. I’ll be looking for them and if I find a good source, I will share the information.
My good friend, Ford Day, has a small patch of Indian corn growing this year. In fact, it’s past the point of growing and currently being harvested. Carol is busy cleaning the tips of the ears where the dreaded corn earworms found them as well. They have several varieties that are unique. I don’t recall exactly where he ordered his seed, but it adds quite the nice touch to the farm.
I know fall is still a few weeks away, but what better way to get started than to start thinking about the good things to come. I encourage you to start planning your fall décor. There are a multitude of sources that will help you with picking native species to add to your homes. If you have followed us in the past, you already know how I harp on not letting the “season” pass so quickly that you miss it.
If college football is limited to the point they are indicating, then maybe you can find alternatives for entertainment. If you create a fall project for your homes and lawns, please share some pictures, I’m sure everyone would enjoy seeing them. Just remember, Indian corn must be in the mix.
Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.