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Corn History in American Cuisine

Contributed by: Kori Puckett

If you could pick a single food that exemplifies the Americas, what would you pick? No food really screams American like corn. In the U.S., corn is really popular in Southern food. Some popular corn dishes in the South include cornbread (also known as hoecakes or johnny cakes among some Southerners), corn pudding, creamed corn, succotash, and old fashioned buttered corn on the cob.

I'll give you an idea of just how central corn has always been to the American diet with a little bit of corn history...

Corn is completely native to the Americas. It was only grown by the Native Americans, thousands of years before Christopher Columbus arrived to the New World. Petrified cobs have been discovered that are thousands of years old to prove this.

The Native American name for corn was mahiz, which the early settlers called maize. In Native American language usage, the word "mahiz" means "that which sustains us." Cultivating corn turned the Native American tribes from nomadic to agrarian societies. They may have even used corn to brew beer before the European settlers arrived.

Columbus traded with the Indians in the West Indies and took corn back to Spain. From Spain, it was introduced to the rest of Western Europe then eventually spread to the rest of the world. English and German settlers named corn after their generic term for an edible grass crop. They called it "Indian corn" to differentiate it from other grains.

The earliest settlers in America may very well have died from starvation if the natives hadn't introduced them to corn. The settlers were taught how to grow it by planting kernels in small holes with small fish and covering them up. The fish acted as fertilizer.

The Indians also shared their various ways of preparing corn, such as pounding it into meal to make cornbread, corn soup, corn cakes, and corn pudding. Corn was also used by the early settlers as money and to trade for meat and furs.

The love of corn goes very deep and way back into our history. The first governor of the Plymouth Colony, Governor William Bradford, said once "And sure it was God's good providence that we found this corne for we know not how else we should have done."

And the reverence for corn that the settlers in the U.S. had back then still goes on today. It's the largest crop in the U.S. It regularly graces dinner tables, including Thanksgiving dinner ever since the year 1621. Small towns all around America's heartland celebrate the harvest with corn festivals. In Iowa, the nation's #1 corn producer, about half the farming land is devoted to just corn!

It's also one of the most widely distributed in the world. In fact, street vendors around the world sell husked corn, which developed from American settlers adapting the native style of roasting corn without the husks.

So the next time you come down South or have a hankering for some Southern food, be sure to order up some of America's favorite crop.


This article is written by Kori Puckett, a food addict who enjoys desserts, Southern U.S. cuisine, and practically anything with carbohydrates (she's not an Atkins diet fan). Visit her website at and get easy, authentic Southern recipes right now.



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