Thanks To Corn

Today I went to the grocery store and found that the first crop of local corn had arrived. The happy shopper next to me and I had a hallelujah moment together, though I’ve never seen him before in my life.

“The corn is here!” he said.

“I know! This is great!” I told him as I grabbed a bag. I was going to hug him but I wasn’t sure if his wife (who might have been over by the carrots) likes corn enough to understand our happiness.

“Yep,” he said. “They just brought the first truckload in this morning.” Like me, he’d been waiting for it, knowing it isn’t really summer until the local corn arrives.

“Is it early this year?” I asked.

“You must not be from around here,” he said and narrowed his eyes.

I know a fellow corn lover when I see one, so when he launched into a short narrative about local corn production, I hung on to his every word.

Some people just don’t understand the corn thing, especially if they didn’t grow up here in the summers. In order to really appreciate it, you would have had to be immersed in it every summer of your life, shucking it on the back steps for your mother on a hot afternoon and watching as she threw the ears into a big white enamel pot (with dents) as the steam curled up toward the ceiling.

If you do not serve corn at a party in July, then it should be mandatory that you leave town, or at least be banned from hosting a summer party for life.

I tried to explain to my sister-in-law why corn had to be on the menu for a recent gathering. She spent her summers on Lake Erie (sorry about that) and she didn’t realize that corn was a semi-precious gem.

“It’s kind of a tradition around here,” I told her, as if I were explaining why pasta is important to Italy.

My niece is marrying a gentleman from France and he once explained to me how unusual it would be to serve corn on the cob in Paris.

“It’s what they serve to cows,” he said.

I told him that corn in America is an experience that needs no explanation.

The word for corn used by the Native Americans meant “our life,” or “our mother,” because thanks to that crop, the Indians could settle down and build communities rather than follow their food. And if that doesn’t impress you, remember the words of Governor William Bradford-the first governor of Plymouth County – when he said, “And sure it was God’s good providence that we found this corn for we know not how else we should have done.”

You will remember that the pilgrims were hungry that first winter and we’re all here today because the Indians shared their corn. (I don’t know how I can explain that to a Frenchman.)

Maybe my niece’s fiance should take a ride out to Iowa and check out the corn one summer, which is hopefully knee high by the Fourth of July. In Iowa, about half of all cultivated land is devoted to corn, making it first in the nation for corn production.

And corn is the largest crop in the United States if you look at the number of acres planted and its value on the market.

When I traveled through Turkey, I saw a vendor who had hot corn on the cob piled high and spilling off his cart. It was a proud moment for me, as if I’d stumbled into a baseball game in India. I felt right at home.

When I got home from the grocery store today, I made a huge pot of corn chowder and then I boiled a few extra ears for a side dish.

This, I thought, is why I shovel snow all winter.

And why I’d never live in Paris.