All About Corn

Lately, I have – as I do from time to time – thought a lot about corn.

I’ll wait a minute for readers to grab a cup of coffee and get in a comfortable chair, because I know what you’re thinking: Oh Boy, you’ve really got my attention now – I’m on the edge of my seat. Do go on.

Whether you think much about it or not, corn plays a big role in all our lives. When you just look at the basics it’s food, fuel, and the ever-popular bourbon whiskey. In food you’ve got your sweet corn, creamed corn, corn on the cobb, corn casserole, hominy, corn chips, cornbread, and of course, if you’re southern, grits. Going to the movies? Have some corn. Mexican food is basically corn – tacos, tamales, tortillas, enchiladas, tostadas, quesadilla and don’t forget polenta. Halloween’s coming up and that means candy corn, Indian corn, and corn mazes, so that’s food, décor, and entertainment. And it’s all corn.

OK, I won’t attempt an encyclopedic review of all corn facts, but I did look it up. 

The U.S. is the world’s biggest producer of corn. There’s no way to list all the world’s uses for it. It’s in plastics, fabrics, adhesives, and food coloring. All of this and I haven’t even mentioned cornstarch. Where would we be without cornstarch?  Oh, and oil. Don’t forget corn oil. 

When you Google corn you get 396,000,000 results. By comparison God beats corn with 2,880,000,000 results. Money seems more popular than God at 3,910,000,000, but sex tops money with 5,130,000,000. 

However, in the vegetable world nothing beats corn, not even the tomato, the world’s most consumed vegetable. The tomato comes in with a lowly 80,000,000 Google results. I admit I didn’t Google all the world’s vegetables, but that wouldn’t be a good use of my time.

Even so, the popularity in vegetable world isn’t what gives corn its allure for me. Perhaps it’s corn’s ancient Mexican roots. Corn was first domesticated in Mexico about 10,000 years ago and it still has that old world mystique, kinda’ like it feels in a Mexican cantina. 

Corn isn’t really even corn to the world. Americans call it corn, but to most of the world it is known as maize. In Spanish it is maíz. In French it is maïs. In German and Italian it is mais. In Greek it is…oh, I give up on the Greek. Look it up. 

Maybe the appeal comes from the association with all things Halloween. No fall décor is truly complete without the Indian corn. And Stephen King’s original horror story about murderous children is certainly not Children of the Wheat. No, it is, of course, Children of the Corn. When Kevin Costner summons the spirits of famous baseball players, saying, “If you build it they will come,” where did they spookily come from. Yep, a cornfield. 

In the fall we go to corn mazes. They’re spooky fun. Then there’s high fructose corn syrup – talk about scary!

Does anybody else remember the big corn controversy? First, they genetically modified tomatoes – no problem. Then they modified corn and the next thing you know…

I remember the big corn “to do.” Writing in an issue of the prestigious journal Nature, researchers at Cornell University indicated that the pollen from Bt-modified corn, as it was known, might be killing monarch butterfly larvae. Can you imagine worse publicity than it kills butterflies? Me neither.  

Of course, corn is sacred in some cultures. It has been particularly so with many Native American Indian tribes. Corn has been seen as a symbolic mother through whom the sun god bestows blessings. Cornmeal, husks, and cobs can be used in rituals, as adornment and for spiritual offerings. 

You can still buy a corn cob pipe from the Missouri Meerschaum Company on their website, Their tagline is “150 Years & Still Smokin’.” The Limited Edition Dodif Volcano cob is advertised for $27.99, but you can get the Let Freedom Ring pipe for only $8.99. I liked the Shenandoah for $16.99. Tobacco sold separately. Again, there’s just something fall-like about this stuff. And that makes it appealing and kinda’, sorta’, maybe, spooky. 

You can buy books on corn. I read a great book by Tom Standage a few years back, An Edible History of Humanity. The index entry for corn says, “see maize.” Indexed under “maize” he has “Columbus and,” “in creation myths,” “ethanol from,” “Inca customs related to,” “mutation and selection,” “and pellagra,” and “spread of.” That “and pellagra” chapter is a whole book on its own. There’s a lot to corn. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention corn’s association with Hollywood. Let’s be honest, how many have gone to a movie that was of almost no interest just to get the corn? Of course, you have. Who hasn’t? It conjures up a cozy feeling just thinking about it. 

So tonight, I may grab a drink, maybe some whiskey (corn) would be good. It’s cooling off so perhaps I’ll put out a little fall décor (corn), maybe watch a scary movie (Children of the Corn, perhaps), pop some – yep, corn. We could sit out on the porch, smoke the ole’ corn cob, that is we could if we smoked. 

Then again maybe it’s too early for all that. Maybe I’ll suggest a silly comedy instead of some intense horror film. Maybe something slap stick, just something that’s light and sorta’, oh, I don’t know…corny? You just can’t make this stuff up. Corn: it’s everywhere. Creepy. 

Oh, and Happy Halloween. 


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