Carl White's Life in the Carolinas

From Maize to Maze

by Suzelle Sinclair

suzelle.sinclair@earthlink.net

“Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love – that makes life and nature harmonious.”

~George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans)

Some mornings the smell of coffee brewing is even more delightful. This was one of those mornings. For many weeks the extreme heat and Carolina humidity filled the days, including the mornings. This day, however, was different. The moment I opened the door to take Gracie out for her walk, I was greeted with a cool caress that announced the coming of autumn.

I must admit that the days when summer is slipping into fall are among my favorite. Returning from our walk, the sweet aroma from brewing coffee welcomed me home. I poured a cup and sat down on the deck to further enjoy the crisp air of morning. As I watched the steam rise from my cup, I pondered how I would spend this delightful day. As the end of summer draws near, the opportunity to enjoy fresh local produce also will soon come to an end. I decided to spend the day picking up a few bushels of local corn to put into the freezer and enjoy throughout the year.

A native plant of North America, maize derives its name from the indigenous Taíno word for the mahiz plant. “Corn” is an English word for cereal grains. English-speaking countries outside the United States still use the word as a generic term for all grains. Maize was a staple for native Americans and still is a staple for us today. In addition to the sweet delicious kernels that we love to eat right off the cob, corn is used in a wide variety of products, including corn meal, corn syrup, animal feed, bourbon whiskey, aspirin, and even plastics, crayons and biofuels.

There are a number of major varieties of maize, including sweet, dent, flint and heirloom. Sweet corn is picked while the seeds are immature, sweet and tender. This is the corn that we enjoy eating right off the cob. Dent corn, also known as field corn, is dried and ground into grain. Flint corn, also known as Indian corn, dries into a number of beautiful fall colors. It has high nutrient value. Once dried, it can be ground into a number of foods including corn meal, hominy and grits. Flint corn can also be popped. Kernels are dried to the point when they still contain moisture. When heated the moisture becomes steam and the kernels pop.

Heirloom corn is not mass produced and unfortunately, many varieties have disappeared. There are however farmers who are working to maintain heirloom varieties. A wonderful example of a heirloom variety resurgence is Jimmy Red that was reduced down to only two remaining ears. Its rich and oily germ mades for an outstanding moonshine. In the early 2000’s, South Carolina farmer Ted Chewning, a well-known seed saver, came into possession of the last two remaining ears and cultivated them for several years. It now has a cult following, especially among Charleston chefs. High Wire Distilling, also based in Charleston, has resurrected use of this variety for use in their high quality bourbon whiskey, New Southern Revival.

This day, I was in search of sweet corn. Gracie and I hopped into the truck and headed out to the farm. Gracie enjoyed hanging her head out of the window and sampling all the delightful smells of the country. There was quite a buzz at the farm when we arrived. Mr. Jones, who owns the farm, told me that his crew was working to gather the remaining corn. “Autumn is almost here,” he said, “and folks are already asking when the corn maze is going to open.”

Like many others across the Carolinas, Mr. Jones’ corn maze is a local attraction. “We started work on it over on the east side of the field,” he said, “Want to give her a test run?” Gracie was more than happy to accept the challenge. We enjoyed a hayride over to the east side of the field. Gracie ran to the front of the trailer, placed her front paws on a bail of hay, positioned herself for a good view, as her tail wagged with excitement.

As soon as the tractor stopped, Gracie raced into the corn maze. She soon found an ear of corn lying on the ground and snatched it up. She carried the ear with her and as we exited, she ran to Mr. Jones to show him her prized ear of corn. “What did you think?” he asked. I told him we had great fun and thanked him for the preview. “Well then, you and corn dog will have to come back next week when we open,” he said.

Gracie and I headed for home with the windows down to enjoy the perfect weather. I noticed the signs of the changing season. The bright green color of the grass and foliage had become more yellowish green in hue. As I reflected on the changing season, I thought about my friend, Elaine. A few years ago she lost her husband and this was a dark season for her. She recently met someone new and has bravely embraced a new season of her life. It is inspiring to see the joy in her life again. Just as seasons change, so do we, anticipating what new adventures this season will bring.

I glanced at Gracie and said, “I think this is going to be an amazing autumn.” Her ears perked, tail wagged and she gave me a big puppy smile in agreement.

USDA National Center for Home Food Preservation Complete Guide to Home and Freezing, available free online at:

https://nchfp.uga.edu/.

CHARLOTTE WEATHER