This is my favorite time of the year, even with the horse and deer flies. I sit under the oak tree next to the garden and husk sweet corn. I love to husk sweet corn because I love roasted corn. There’s a way to pull down a sliver or two of husk from one side of the ear, and then grab the rest of the husk, silks and all, and strip it down clean off the cob. Well, clean enough for me. My wife fastidiously removes every last strand of silk from every ear.
An ear of corn, just past the pimply stage but not yet fully mature looks more beautiful to me than any of Victoria’s Secrets. I understand why native Americans celebrated their corn feasts with such joy and gusto. Nothing tastes as good as a roasted ear five minutes from the garden. The only fault of today’s super delicious sweet corn varieties is that the smell of the ears boiling in water is not as redolent with the ultimate soul of corn-ness as in the days of Yellow Bantam and Country Gentleman.
So why do I sometimes bad-mouth corn in print? Corn has become a sort of symbol of over-industrialized farming. I wish it were not so because corn is certainly a triumph of humans over nature, or rather humans in cooperation with nature. The ear of corn is one awesome seedhead and growing the stuff is fairly easy, all things considered. That’s the whole problem. Corn is sort of like sex. It is such a wonderful thing that it is easy to carry to excess.
Fascinatingly enough, this is not the first time in human history that corn has been overdone. From what archeology thinks now not only did excessive corn production bring down the downfall of the ancient Mayans but the Woodland Indians of the Mississippi Valley too. Not only is corn hard on the soil, but a diet heavy in corn is not necessarily healthy. Early mound-building Indians ate too much corn, say archeologists. Late skyscraper-building Americans eat too much corn too, in the form of meat fattened on corn.
But that is not the whole reason I criticize corn sometimes. I am heretical enough to think that it is not really great feed for livestock. My chickens don’t think so. They eat it only grudgingly. They prefer wheat to supplement their bugs and worms in the woods. When I eat corn, at least half of each kernel goes right through me. I have mixed hog manure with water and poured it through a screen and again, the yellow parts of the kernel were still there in the manure. It appears that almost half of the bulk of commercial corn fed to hogs goes right through them undigested. Squirrels regularly raid our corn crib. They eat only the germ out of each kernel and leave the rest. I think corn is like candy. It’s fun and fattening, and produces meat that is fun and fattening too.
Now I’ve found a farmer who agrees with me more or less. He was an Englishman writing in 1893. He might have been a bit prejudiced about anything from America but nevertheless his words are most interesting. I found him quoted in Farm and Dairy magazine in a regular column, “Let’s Talk Rusty Iron” by Sam Moore. After stating that corn’s merits have been considerably exaggerated, the Englishman went on: “Maize, although useful, is not a perfect food for pigs and poultry, as, although it’s fattening, it certainly produces an inferior quality of meat, having a somewhat coarse and fishy flavor, particularly objectionable in poultry.” He was even more scathing in his criticism of feeding corn to horses.
Wouldn’t it be something if someday scientific progress would decide that corn isn’t the best way to feed the world? I sure hope, if that happens, that roasting ears are considered an exception.