Monday, July 14, 2008
This year I grew a big patch of sweetcorn and it did really well. In past years I've had to "sleep" in the patch to keep the coons from looting and pilaging it first. Last year there a rain came on ripening night so I grabbed up my blanket, foam pad and pillow and ran inside. The next morning the corn stalks were rode over, the shucks shredded, and the ears gnawed by little rows of coon teeth. No wonder they have masks. And I'm pretty sure the looters are descended from Edgar, one of three orphans that I raised.
So this year as the corn ripening hour approached I was in a fit of paranoia. Each evening I would check the silks to see how close the corn was to being ready to pick, and wonder if tonight would be the night of the strike. How did they know, anyway? It must be smell - I could sense them sniffing somewhere in the shrubbery.
But this year, miraculously, no raccoons - and yesterday evening Cebah and I picked all the corn that was ready, about half of what's there. We cut it off the cob, heated it through, just, with some butter and salt, let it cool down and bagged it for freezing. It won't be as good as fresh corn, but it will be, as Cebah says, "Better than a snowball."
What a cornball she is. When we finished shucking and silking I turned around to see she had gone cornfield blond. Ha!
To celebrate what some South-eastern tribes call the "Green Corn Ceremony" - that is, festivities of gratitude associated with the ripening and first harvest of the corn, I made green corn tamales for lunch. I cut off the corn and whirred it up in the food processor with some salt, and a little instant masa since sweet corn doesn't have quite as much starch as the older varieties of "indian corn" or field, or dent, as it's called, do. The Cherokee would have pounded it up with a heavy wooden mortar and pestle called a Ka No Na.
Once the corn was pureed, I wrapped double tablespoons of it in the shucks and steamed them for a half hour, until they were (barely) solidified.
To go with the tamales I made a salsa of Zapotec tomatoes, purple onion, garlic, avocado, lime juice, salt, and wildly aromatic cilantro from the garden. This was very good.
Here's what James Mooney, an ethnologist who lived with the Cherokee in the late 1800s, wrote concerning the green corn:
"...the Green Corn dance, preliminary to eating the first new corn, was the most solemn tribal function, a propitiation and expiation for the sins of the past year, an amnesty for public criminals, and a prayer for happiness and prosperity for the year to come. Only those who had properly prepared themselves by prayer, fasting, and purification were allowed to take part in this ceremony, and no one dared to taste the new corn until then. ...In eating the first new corn after the Green Corn dance, care was taken not to blow upon it to cool it, for fear of causing a wind storm to beat down the standing crop in the field."
Both corn and mother are "Selu" in Cherokee, and the first woman, original mother of humanity, was also the source of this wonderful plant and its life-sustaining food. But that's another story.
Just for the record, we did not blow on our tamales - it wasn't necessary - and I am for raccoon amnesty, and of course I wish all my gentle readers happiness and prosperity and sweet corn in the coming year.