The familiar lyrics from the musical Oklahoma “the corn is so high it touches the sky”, echoed around me as we drove the highways and byways of Nebraska and Iowa this summer.
The corn was there, but not as high as the sky, in fact much of it was no more than 2 feet high. Even though some farmers, at great cost, had wells to water their crops, most were drought damaged.
Seeing one ear of corn per stalk, and being told by our son that was the yield, I questioned the wisdom of our farmers for putting so much into what seemed so little in production.
Because of that encounter, we have this month’s column. Corn comes in varieties known as flint corn, dent corn, popcorn, sweet corn, and lesser known others. It is considered our Native Inheritance but could have possibly originated in Asia or Africa. The wild ancestry of corn is still in research. It was in cultivation in pre-Columbian periods in North and South America. The unusual aspect of corn, is that it is dependent upon the hand of man for its perpetuation, unlike other “grass grains” that can self perpetuate. The interdependence of man and corn has not changed to this day.
To many of us, corn signals an ear of sweet corn roasting on hot coals on a summer picnic, but actually this is a minor crop in the U.S. The corn that literally feeds America, is dent corn. It is dent corn, which can produce 1 to 2 ears per stalk, grows 10-15 ft. tall and feeds our livestock.
A year without an ample harvest of dent corn, would lead not only to meat famine but to a dangerous shortage of many foods, both staple and fancy.
It takes 3 years to develop a hybrid seed that can adequately produce the quality of corn needed. Each year, it must be replanted methodically by hand. Crop rotation and fertilization is critical to corn production. The by-products along with its food value to livestock, makes dent corn the most important crop grown in the U.S. After 12 hours, picked corn looses its flavor. It is picked, packed in ice, and quickly consumed.
BAKED CORN PUDDING
2 cups freshly cut corn
1 cup milk
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
Optional: 2 tbsp chopped Ortega chili
2 tbsp grated white cheddar cheese
Cut corn from the cob and put in a buttered 1 qt Pyrex dish. Beat the eggs, add the milk and seasonings. Pour this mixture over the corn and bake in a pan of hot water at 400 degrees for 40 minutes. Let sit. Serve lukewarm with a variety of meats. Serves four.