Sunday, December 07, 2014

Field Corn

Weather: Gentle rains Wednesday and Thursday, followed by morning mists rising from the river Friday and Saturday.

What’s still green: Juniper, piñon, and other evergreens, yuccas; leaves on grape hyacinth, bearded iris, Japanese honeysuckle, vinca, sweet pea, violet, golden-spur columbine, beards tongues, winecup mallow, alfilerillo; needle, June, pampas, and other grasses.

What’s gray: Winterfat, snow-in-summer; four-wing salt bushes are gray-green; buddleia, pinks and catmint leaves are blue gray.

What’s reddened: Cholla, twigs on peach and apricot; purple aster leaves darkening.

What’s yellowed: Young stems on globe willow; leaves on fernbush yellowing; some arborvitae have browned.

What’s blooming indoors: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Small birds.

Weekly update: Anthropologist, botanists, and politicians ask different questions about the origins of corn. The first want to know who did it, where they lived, and when. Botanists insist on understanding the whats and hows, the probabilities of hybridization. Nationalists only ask that their people be given credit as the first; their offspring want the royalties.

The rest of us have simpler questions. How do I grow it? When do I eat? From that perspective, the many pueblo varieties of corn fall into two types: flour and sweet.

The Hopi planted sweet corn over four days during the waxing moon of April in secluded niches and harvested it in July. Much was roasted and eaten when it was picked. Since it’s prone to mold, the remaining kernels were removed and dried for use as a sweetener.

Dietary corn was planted in fields from mid-May to late June. Crow-wing indicated in 1920 each clan was assigned a week to plant, but individuals could plant when they chose. The four-day sowings staggered tasseling dates so neighboring patches of wind-born pollen could not fertilize each other. Unlike sweet corn, it was gathered after it dried in September and October. The ears were stored and the kernels removed when needed for grinding or boiling.

This flint corn derived from one of the primary races of maize that developed in Mexico. Chapalote came from intermediate altitudes of Sonora and Chihuahua. This is the form found in the Tehuacán valley and the one found in Bat Cave in the Mogollon Mountains of Catron County from around 2000 bc. The shell or pericarp was brown, and could be popped on the cob.

The corn found in the strata of Bat Cave underwent a major change around 500 bc when varieties appeared that had been crossed with teosinte, the closest relative of maize. Since teosinte grows around corn fields in México, it’s assumed the hybrids came from there. One distinguishing feature is the pericarp may come in many colors. Another is that teosinte may introduce mutations that become permanent.

Maíz de Ocho appeared around 700 in western México. The eight-row variety spread into the southwest, then north to Colorado and east along the Arkansas River. From there the variety moved into lower elevations following cold soils and short growing seasons north up the Missouri river after the year 1000. From there the corn moved east along the southern Great Lakes to the Iroquois and New England. The kernels were easier to grind, the yields higher than their predecessors, and the plants could handle both drought and cold.

In 1851, Lewis Henry Morgan said the Iroquois planted a white flint corn that ripened first. They soaked it in wood ash lye for hominy. The second to ripen was a soft red they picked green and charred over pits to dry. Last to ripen was the white they used for flour.

They stripped some ears and braided the still attached husks into clusters that could be hung to dry and store. Other corn, including the charred red, was buried in grass-lined pits. Neither Morgan nor Arthur Parker gave an explanation. Centuries earlier, Jesuits had reported their bark-roofed long houses were flammable. Buried corn would survive catastrophe.

The eight-rowed corn became the ancestor of modern field corn. In the middle 1840s, near Peoria, Illinois, Robert Reid planted some reddish corn he’d obtained from Gordon Hopkins before he moved west from Brown County, Ohio, on the Ohio river east of Cincinnati. Hopkins’ family says it had been in their family since 1765 when men migrated into the Shenandoah valley from Baltimore.

The gourd-seed variety only grows well from Virginia south. When it failed to germinate in the prairie environment, Reid filled the spaces in his field with leftover yellow seed he got from neighbors. The New England corn crossed the southern variety. His son, James, worked to improve it by selecting out the red. Reid’s Yellow Dent became famous when it won first prize at Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.

Feed corns are softer than southwestern flints, whose kernels are surrounded by hard starch layers. In field corn the hard starch migrates to the sides, leaving a softer starch in the center that shrinks to produce the identifying top dent. One of its advantages was animals could chew it without having it ground. It also was more prone to diseases and predators. Breeders had to reintroduce resistence to store and export it.

Crow-wing. A Pueblo Indian Journal 1920-1921, edited by Elsie Clews Parsons, 1925.

Galinat, W. C. and J. H. Gunnerson. "Spread of Eight-Rowed Maize from the Prehistoric Southwest," Harvard University Botanical Museum Leaflets 20:117-160:1963.

Giles, Dorothy. Singing Valleys: The Story of Corn, 1940, on Reid.

Jesuits. The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, edited by Reuben Gold Thwaites, 1898.

Mangelsdorf, Paul C. Corn: It’s Origin, Evolution, and Improvement, 1974.

Morgan, Lewis Henry. League of the Ho-de’-no-sau-nee or Iroquois, 1851.

Parker, Arthur C. Iroquois Uses of Maize and Other Food Plants, 1910.

Stephen, Alexander. Notebooks, 1882-1894, edited as Hopi Journal, 1936, by Elsie Clews Parsons, on Hopi planting times.

Wallace, Henry A. and William L. Brown. Corn and Its Early Fathers, 1988 revised edition, on Reid.

Whiting, Alfred F. Ethnobotany of the Hopi, 1939.

1. Gila Pima A’al Hu:ñ flint corn, Gila River Reservation, Arizona, Native Seeds Search, Tucson. The low, hot lands of the Pima and Papago in southern and central Arizona were a separate diffusion route for maize into the southwest. Rounded top.

2. Río Grande Blue flour corn, Native Seeds Search; from a mix of blue corn varieties from Río Grande pueblos. Rounded top.

3. Reid’s Yellow Dent corn. The red survives in streaks. Depression in top.

4. Southern corns have a different lineage and probably moved north along the lowland coast of México through areas like Tramaulipas to the southern Mississippi valley. Hickory King, southern dent corn for hominy; grown in 1880 by A. O. King of Hickory, Virginia, from an ear he received from friend; marketed by Burpee in 1885 as having a large grain and small cob. Depression in top.

5. McCormack’s Blue Giant dent corn, developed by Jeff McCormack from Hickory King and an unknown blue dent; released in 1994 by Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Mineral, Virginia. Depression in top.

No comments: