Ever since I was a little kid, I loved the colorful Indian corn that appeared in stores and markets each autumn. When I was 14, I raised enough potatoes to sell that I was able to buy a horse. When I was 15, I decided to raise Indian corn to sell, knowing that “Don” would happily eat the nubbins and any unsold ears. It was a fair-sized patch that I planted, so it took a lot of hoeing that summer. That was the year that I learned that skunks can climb. I’d assumed that it was young coons eating my corn! I live-trapped them and relocated them. Illegal, probably, but it solved the problem. After I shot the first crow and hung him high on a pole for his kin to see, they stayed out pretty well also.
The ears on my corn grew much larger than the puny things from which I’d taken my seed. Maybe it was all that horse manure that I’d plowed under. Regardless, when fall came, I used baling twine to tie the ears into bundles of three and headed for a couple stores in town. The little mom and pop grocery at the edge of town agreed to carry them on a consignment basis, but the other places I’d thought to try said that they used a particular jobber to supply them and they didn’t want to upset him, since they also depended on him for a lot of other stuff. I was disappointed, but I understood.
I then went to a local florist who stocked a lot of lawn & garden and home décor items. I never got to see the buyer for the store, the lady at the front desk just got on the phone and called to the back, where the buyer said he already had a supplier. On a hunch, I left a couple of my prettiest bundles and ask her to give them to him as a gift from me. Naturally, I left my name and number. By the time that I got back to the farm, the phone was ringing off the hook. The buyer had seen them and wanted a large order immediately, cash on the barrel-head!
I’d purposely planted as great a variety of kernels as possible, and it showed at harvest. Some ears were bright red, some solid purple, some white and others yellow; a few turned out to be a muddy brown. Don got those. It was a fun sort of project. Peeling the shucks back brought eager anticipation as I tried to guess the color and quality of the each ear. Some of my family would occasionally help, just for the fun of that anticipation. Most ears were spotted with kernels of many colors, but my personal favorites were the ones where the individual kernels were striped with various colors. I supplied those two customers until the fall decorating season was over, and I still had enough small, ugly and nubbin ears to supply Don with a couple treats with his (slightly reduced) twice-daily scoop of grain. He usually ate cob and all.
That winter, I took a few dollars from my profits and bought a hand-crank grain mill. The next fall, the family discovered how delicious cornbread can be, when it’s made from freshly ground corn from that year’s crop. When combined with the black-eyed peas I’d grown that summer and a big glass of iced-tea (I live below the Mason-Dixon, so we drink it all year.) it was a meal fit for a king. Of course, the color of the cornbread depended somewhat on the color of the ears ground.
Friends and extended family enjoyed the things they made from my corn-meal, too. One fellow told a funny story about it. I’d picked out some all-purple ears to grind for Bob, the guy who usually did our car repairs. As I ground it one evening under the porch-light, it looked surprisingly grey. Bob said that he thought it had a funny color under the florescent kitchen light, too, as he mixed up a batch of mush to fry for breakfast the next morning. The sun had just risen and a bright ray illuminated Bob’s kitchen the next morning as he went to the refrigerator and pulled out a pan of the prettiest lavender-colored mush that you can ever imagine. It browned up nice in the skillet, but the color reappeared each time he cut it with his fork. He said he’d never eaten a lavender-colored food before, and could only eat it if he didn’t look at it. Laughing as he told the story, he said that he’d use the rest of it, but asked that if I brought any more, that I make it some other color. (I did.)
I raised the colorful corn and sold it until the fall after I got married. The next year, my time had to be spent on more financially productive matters. I stupidly traded off ol’ Don, and didn’t have much time to garden after that anyway. I raised one tiny patch the year after that, just for our own use, but that was the last time. I’m thinking of raising the three sisters of the Native Americans this year in a little spot at the edge of the lawn. I find myself growing increasing desirous of some decent food from my own land, and Indian corn, beans and squash should be a good place to start.
I look back fondly on those days of growing my own food in years past, and I still can’t help but smile every time I think of Bob’s lavender mush! © 2013