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Cornier and cornier
July 5, 2006

"Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field."
—Dwight David Eisenhower
I may be sitting at my cool desk, not pushing a pencil but tapping a keyboard, yet I certainly know what our late president was talking about. I got a big reminder a couple of Fridays ago when Bob and I made an excursion to the Florida A&M University Research Farm just across the state line on Highway 267, about five miles north of Quincy, to spend a sunny afternoon standing in a corn field. Okay, there were tomatoes, peppers, an herb garden (beautiful) and even an experimental grove of papayas. But the focus was corn.

The Forestry and Conservation Education Program (FACE) a three week program sponsored by FAMU to encourage minority students to think about a career in plant science (and have lots of good learning fun) was hosting an open house to give the rest of us a look at an intriguing research project.

The Maize-10-Maze project is "a-maize-ing." (Sorry.) Under the leadership of Dr. Hank Bass of the Florida State University and with a grant from the National Science Foundation, researchers are solving the mystery of the genomic structure of maize. I promise I won't get more technical than that.

Here's what we saw. Starting with a strain of maize from 1912 they have taken each of the ten chromosomes of corn and developed interesting mutants. They are not doing this for fun. It's serious research that will lead to improved productivity and yield for farmers and better food quality and safety for consumers. No matter, it's fun to walk the field to see how many different great-great-great grandcrops come from that early plant—and how different they all are. There's chocolate corn, an albino corn, six-inch tall dwarf corn and everybody's favorite7mdash;the lazy corn that lies on the ground rather than stand up to the Florida heat.

How could I do anything but think about cooking with corn! But first I recalled another corny (but dead serious quotation).

"Whoever makes two ears of corn, or two blades of grass to grow where only one grew before, deserves better of mankind, and does more essential service to his country than the whole race of politicians put together."
—Jonathan Swift

Thanks FACE, FSU and FAMU for doing us this service. (And they promise to have another field day next year; I'll try to let you know in time.) If you want to know more about the Maize-10-Maze project, visit www.cytomaize.org.

Meanwhile let's eat. This first recipe is a favorite—and thrifty. It even used the corn cobs to make a corn-sweet and tasty treat.

Corn Bisque

8 ears of corn, or whatever it takes to get 4 cups of kernels
5 cups of water
1 teaspoon salt
fresh or dried herbs of your choice (basil, thyme, rosemary, sage all are good)
2 medium chopped onions
1 large peeled and chopped carrot
2 chopped celery stalks
1 medium chopped potato
1 1/2 cups whole milk (or half and half if you are feeling extravagant)
salt and pepper

Husk the corn, remove all the silk. Cut the corn from the cobs and set aside. In a big kettle or pot bring the cobs, water and salt to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, cover, for about half an hour. Discard the cobs.

Sauté the onions in vegetable oil until they are soft. Sir in the herbs and all the vegetables except the corn. Add the corn-cob stock, cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, cook the corn kernels in a cup of water for about 5 minutes; set aside.

Using a blender or food processor, purée the vegetables, stock and milk in batches. Be careful with the hot liquid—let it cool a little first. Return the purée to the pot and add the corn and its cooking liquid. Salt and pepper to taste and adjust the herbs. Reheat if needed.

Marinated Corn Salad

2 of yellow corn, cut from cob (about 5 ears)
1/2 cup of chopped celery
2 tablespoons of thinly sliced green onions
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/8 teaspoon of pepper
1/4 cup of water
1 small green pepper, cut into 1/2" strips
1 tablespoon of chopped pimiento or red bell pepper
1 tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley (optional)
1 tablespoon of cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon of dry mustard

Combine corn and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat and simmer 7 to 8 minutes or just until the corn is tender; drain. Mix together the corn, green pepper, celery, pimiento, green onions and parsley. Combine oil, vinegar, salt, mustard and pepper in a jar. Cover tightly; shake vigorously. Pour over salad; cover and chill 4 hours. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

New friends and questions

You can meet a lot of interesting folks standing out in a hot cornfield. Our special guide, FACE participant Shonn McCloud, is a freshman student at Florida High in Tallahassee. He told me he'd never thought of a career in agriculture or research—but now that's looking mighty good. FACE is working.

Another interesting face under a big straw hat was Bill Outlaw. Well, more appropriately Dr. William H. Outlaw, the Peter H. Homann Professor of Biological Science at FSU, who had brought his biology class for a bit on on-site learning and some harvesting on the side. Peering out from under that hat, he seemed more like "Billy Bob," which is how he introduced himself to us. Turns out that while he is an esteemed scholar, he has another burning interest—sugar cane and sugar cane mills. He owns several and has run down just about operating mill in this part of the world.

When he found out we were from Bainbridge, he perked right up. He has just bought another mill and he's scoping out its history. He asked if we knew anything about a D. T. Sutherland Foundry that operated here in Bainbridge. He knows they made at least two sugar cane mills. His is one of them. Bill surely would like to find out more about the Sutherland Foundry. So would I. And I'd love to know if there are any sugar cane mills operating in Decatur County. I believe there is one in Whigham. Can you help me out on either of these questions?


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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network