August 30, 2009

Full Corn Moon - with Music



Next week's full moon is the Full Corn Moon, according to the Old Farmer's Almanac. I tend to think of fresh local corn as a summer thing, but the corn season is at it's height now. Some years if we're lucky we can buy local corn until Halloween.

Corn, or maize, is of course native to the Americas, and was probably first grown in New England around 1,000 A.D. It became more integral to the Algonquian's diet in the following centuries, particularly in southern New England where the weather was milder. (This info is from Kathleen Bragdon's Native People of Southern New England 1500-1650). Maize was believed to have been a gift from the gods.

I have a neighbor who is American Indian, and one summer she was growing corn with red, black and yellow kernels in the neighborhood garden. This is often called Indian corn and is used for wreaths and centerpieces in the fall, but as she pointed out "All corn is Indian corn. The correct term is decorative corn." Point taken!

The English settlers coined the term Indian corn. In Britain, the word "corn" refers to any grain. Wheat, oats, barley, whatever - it's all corn to the British. When they arrived in the New World they called maize Indian corn to differentiate it from all the other things they called corn. Gradually the term for maize just became corn, with Americans calling wheat, barley, oats, etc. grain or cereal.

The Algonquians in New England had some interesting recipes for corn. In addition to roasting, boiling and mashing it, they would:

  • According to Roger Williams, "bake bread of Indian corn which they call pagataw; with this and austres (oysters) a kind of snail, they make a dish which is widely used."

  • According to Timothy Alden, "pound mature corn fine, sift it, make it into a dough with water or bear oil, cover the dough with leaves or pat it into little inch-thick cakes, and bake it in the ashes."

Bear oil is hard to find these days at the supermarket, but you can still find oysters. The favorite corn dish for the English was Indian pudding, which I discussed earlier this year. (Recipes are from Indian New England Before the Mayflower by Howard Russell.)

Finally, in an effort to take advantage of the Web's multi-media capacities, here is a link to Vanessa Williams singing "Colors of the Wind" from Pocahontas, Disney's animated take on colonialism and cultural conflict. It has the lyric: "Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon?" The movie may be a little hokey, but at least they didn't tack on a happy ending, and the song is good.

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