Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sweet Corn

Weather: Power outage early yesterday, rain after dark, then snow that’s accumulated on every leaf blade and horizontal stem.

What’s still green: Juniper, piñon, and other evergreens, yuccas; leaves on grape hyacinth, Japanese honeysuckle, vinca, sweet pea, 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, apricot and apple; 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: Rabbit, small birds.

Weekly update: Sweetness is a recessive trait in Zea mays. Because plants do not reproduce easily when the two genes that control sugar are recessive (su), Paul Mangelsdorf believed all sweet corns were derived from the Chullpi strain in Peru and Bolivia. He noted the early archaeological remains of corn - and corn with its large cobs leaves lots of debris - showed evidence immature cobs and stalks had been chewed for their sugar.

Like Maíz de Ocho, sweet corn traveled from the southwest to the Mandan and Hidatsas of the upper Missouri, then skipped to the Iroquois. One would guess they obtained it during one of their forays in the west. It was growing along the Susquehanna in 1779 when John Sullivan and James Clinton destroyed forty Iroquois villages they believed were aligned with the British.

Richard Bagnal took some ears back to Plymouth, Massachusetts, where Plymotheus was growing it in 1822. The latter wrote, sweet corn "assimilated to the common corn," but he had discovered seed from suckers would breed true. He noted that, over time, the original crimson cob that had stained table linens disappeared.

Bagnal wasn’t the only source for native sweet corn. George Carter talked to a man named Hubbard at Harvard who said his family had been growing a yellow sweet corn since they received some from natives in the 1600s.

However, he was the most important. Following Plymotheus instructions, Gideon Smith described crossing Tuscarora and Sioux in Baltimore to produce Smith’s Early White, a large-grained white sweet corn he described in 1838. He mentioned he was able to restore the red cobs, but "got rid" of it because "it stained the lips and fingers while eating it."

Noyes Darling of New Haven, Connecticut, began experiments with an early yellow flint and a white sweet corn to produce Darling’s Early sweet corn in 1844. At the same time, Augustus Russell Pope was crossing a southern white corn with a northern early sweet corn in Somerville, Massachusetts, to produce Old Colony in 1845. Nathan Stowell of Burlington, New Jersey, crossed a northern sugary corn with Memomony, a soft field corn, to create Stowell’s Sweet Corn in 1850.

White sweet corn remained the snob’s choice until Atlee Burpee introduced Golden Bantam in his 1902 catalog as a cannable sweet corn that tasted better than existing varieties of white corn. He’d obtained his seed stock from a strain William Chambers developed in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Before he died, Chambers had been controlling the pollination of his ears and selecting the best.

Since, botanists have learned more about the genetic structure of corn to produce F1 hybrids that maintain their sweetness after they’ve been picked. John Laughnan introduced the first, Illini Chief, in 1961 from a cross between Golden Cross Bantam and Iochief. Since it was difficult to reproduce, Illinois Foundation Seeds introduced Illini Xtra Sweet in 1968. J. Hove had created a triple cross. The kernels contain so little starch they shrivel when they dry.

Carter, George F. "Sweet Corn among the Indians," Geographical Review 38:206-221:1948.

Giles, Dorothy. Singing Valleys: The Story of Corn, 1940, on Chambers. All I’ve found on Chambers is he lived in Greenfield on land he acquired in 1870 that had been a hatter’s shop on the stage road.

Larson, Debra Levey. "Supersweet Sweet Corn: 50 Years in the Making," University of Illinois press release, 7 August 2003.

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

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

Plymotheus. Letter to the editor, New England Farmer, 7 September 1822; I haven’t see any further identification of him. Bagnal was probably the one who lived in Plymouth from 1753 to 1809.

Singleton, W. Ralph. "Noyes Darling, First Maize Breeder," The Journal of Heredity 35:265-267:1944, reprints Darling’s "Indian Corn - New Variety," Cultivator, 18 November 1845.

Smith, Gideon B. Albany Cultivator, 1838.

1. Canned Golden Sweet F1 hybrid corn, Charter Research, Twin Falls, Idaho, released in 1975.

2. Canned white sweet corn. This was the preferred type over Thanksgiving in the local grocery store.

3. Silver Queen sweet corn, developed by Harvey Mauth for Rogers Brothers Seed Company of Idaho and released in 1955.

4. Golden Bantam sweet corn.

5. Xtra Sweet F1 hybrid corn, derived from Illini Xtrasweet, bred by J. Hove and released by Illinois Foundation Seeds, 1968. Shriveled kernels.

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