LET’S DISH by MaryAnn Miano

Summertime without grilling corn on the cob is unimaginable.  Were it not for the indigenous peoples in the Americas cultivating these pearls of gold, correctly called maize, no one would have discovered corn in its present form growing in the wild. 

Archaeologists who have studied corn can only find a history of cultivated grains going back in the Americas to approximately 9,000 years.  Botanists studying the ancestry of corn during the early part of the 20th century discovered that maize derived from a Mexican grass called teosinte. Through careful study, scientists realized that maize was the domestication of teosinte.

Although teosinte was actually a grass, the early cultivators centuries ago transformed it into a high-yielding, simple-to-harvest food we now know as corn.  Many characteristics of teosinte were modified in order to domesticize maize, and having accomplished this feat, we can say that our Indian ancestors were pioneers in genetics.

Corn probably originated in southern Mexico in the Balsas River Valley.  From there, the grain was gradually carried north by Indians until it spread over all parts of the continent. Christopher Columbus exported the grain to Europe, where it spread to all nations and Asia.  The crop is raised in every country on the globe, and the United States is among one of the largest producers, raising billions of bushels a year and contributing to a large part of the world’s crop. 

Every part of the corn plant is useful, lending itself to over 500 uses. Industrial uses for corn include using the cob as filler for plastics, packing materials, insulating materials, adhesives, chemicals, paint, paste, abrasives, dyes, insecticides, pharmaceuticals, organic aids, solvents, rayon, nylon, antifreeze, soaps, and the bio-fuel ethanol, among many other uses.

The rich grain is, of course, a valuable food for man and beast.  Corn is a major food for feeding cattle, chicken, and hogs, and 75 percent of the grain produced in our country is used for such purposes.  From those tiny yellow beads, we also acquire corn oil, high-fructose corn syrup, cornstarch, and of course, the all-time favorite of everyone — popcorn!  Corn is commonly found in baby food, hominy, puddings, tamales, corn flakes, corn meal, grits, and even alcohol.

We can categorize corn into several subspecies:  dent or “field corn” used for animal feed, flint (colored kernels), popcorn, and sweet corn, used for our consumption. Scientists study corn extensively as a way to learn about genetics, physiology, soil fertility, and biochemistry. 

High in fiber, antioxidants, B-complex vitamins, and carbohydrates, corn is a quick energy boost meal.  Try the recipe of the month for a tasty side dish with corn. 

 

RECIPE OF THE MONTH

CORN AND ZUCCHINI MEDLEY

 

Ingredients:

4 slices bacon

2 cups cubed zucchini (about 2 medium zucchini)

1 ½ cups fresh or frozen corn kernels

1 small red onion, chopped

¼ teaspoon pepper

¼ cup finely shredded Monterey Jack cheese

 

Directions:

1.             Place bacon in a large, deep skillet.  Cook over medium-high heat until evenly browned.  Drain, reserving 1 tablespoon of drippings, crumble, and set aside.

2.             In the skillet with the bacon drippings, sauté the zucchini, corn, and onion over medium heat until crisp tender, about 10 to 13 minutes.  Season with pepper.

3.             Spoon vegetables into a bowl and sprinkle with cheese and crumbled bacon.