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Vegan for the Holidays

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All the world is nuts about

    What's in The Nut Gourmet

The Nutty Gourmet

Vegetarians in Paradise

On the Highest Perch


Includes Recipe Below

Corn-husk masks covered their faces while they danced. Waving green stalks over their heads, they sang the praises of corn, this miracle that was brought to them. These were Native American people who thought of corn as a gift of the gods and included it in their religious ceremonies. They called corn, squash, and beans the three sisters as they planted them together to form the nucleus of their diet.

Scientists believe that corn was first grown on the Mexican plateau or the highlands of Guatemala. Kernels dating back to 6600 BCE have been found in caves in Mexico. Fossil grains were discovered in lake sediment in Mexico City. These sediments could be 80, 000 years old.

Early corn was believed to be similar to oats and barley with each individual kernel covered in a husk. Many scientists believe that the ancestor of corn is a Mexican grass called teosinte. The husks and cobs we know today were developed over the century by early peoples of the Americas. By the time Columbus reached the new world corn fields were evident in both North and South America.

Today corn is the second most plentiful grain in the world behind rice and ahead of wheat. It is the only plant which cannot reproduce itself without the help of man who must plant the kernel. Beginning with early peoples, man has developed the five major varieties we presently use. Corn Most of us know the white, yellow, or bicolor sweet corn we purchase at the market. We are also aware of popping corn. The types that may not be familiar are flint, flour, and dent corn. Flint corn has a larger grain with little flour tissue in the endosperm. Flour corn is soft and floury and tends to break apart easily. Dent corn is a cross between flint and flour corn. Shrinkage of the floury part and non shrinkage of the corneous part creates the dent. This corn is used to make hominy and bread. Because of its high yield, dent corn is the dominant variety in world production.

When corn was brought to Europe explorers of the Americas, many Europeans looked down on it as "a more convenient food for swine than for men." Today corn is still fed to animals, but much of the crop finds its way into the human food chain as breakfast cereals, flour, corn meal, starches, sweeteners, and cooking and salad oils. Non-cooking uses have proliferated in recent years with dyes, paints, chemicals, and automobile fuel as just a few.

The sweet corn we know today was discovered in 1779 in an Iroquois village along the Susquehanna River in central New York, but corn did not catch on as a food until the 1840's. After 1870 horticulturists developed sweeter varieties.

Nutritionally, corn (cooked or raw) is low in fat and calories and provides almost three grams of dietary fiber as well as protein per ear. White corn is deficient in vitamin A, while yellow corn is plentiful. Both offer moderate amounts of folacin and vitamin C, with magnesium and potassium in abundant quantity. Corn, however, is notoriously deficient in lysine and tryptophan, two essential amino acids. Its molecular structure makes at least half of its niacin useless to humans. Sharecroppers in the 1930's who relied on corn for the staple in their diets found themselves the victims of pellagra, a disease that results from a niacin deficiency. Pellagra victims suffer from skin eruptions, digestive and nervous disturbances, and mental deterioration.

RAW: Because fresh picked corn is so flavorful in its raw state, we offer this tasty recipe as an accompaniment to any summer meal.


1 ear fresh white or yellow corn
1/2 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
4 green onions, chopped
2 small tomatoes, diced
1/4 C. (59 ml) lemon juice
1/4 t. sea salt or to taste
1/4 t. ground cumin
1/8 t. chili powder

    Cut kernels off the cob and put them into a medium-size bowl.
    Add remaining ingredients and mix well.
    Adjust seasonings to taste, and serve chilled or at room temperature. Serves 6.

ROASTED: Native Americans never boiled their corn; they usually roasted the corn over an open fire. If you usually boil your corn, you might want to try this technique instead. With corn so plentiful this month, here is a recipe for preparing fresh corn on the cob on the barbecue.


The special benefit of cooking corn on the grill in the husk is that none of the flavor or nutrients are lost in the water as with the boiling method. The season for fresh, sweet, white corn begins about early to mid May. Yellow corn becomes available at the end of June.

  1. Start by soaking whole ears of corn in their husks in a large bowl of water for 15 minutes to 1 hour. Soaking makes the ears easier to shuck and helps to retain the moisture in the kernels.

  2. Prepare the barbecue for grilling. When coals are hot, place whole, unshucked corn directly on the grill. Cover grill, and cook 5 minutes.

  3. Lift cover and using tongs, turn corn about 1/4 turn. Cover and cook another 5 minutes.

  4. Turn corn again about 1/4 turn, and cook 5 minutes longer. The husks should be quite blackened. If the corn is young to medium, 15 minutes is just about right. For medium to large kernel corn, 20 minutes is perfect.

  5. Allow 5 minutes for corn to cool. Shuck and enjoy the juiciest corn you've ever had.

For other corn recipes click on Recipe Index.

Click here for past On the Highest Perch Features

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