American Crop

“Then plough deep while others sleep and you shall have corn to sell and to keep” said Benjamin Franklin. Corn is that golden crop whose significance in American history cannot be underestimated! Little wonder that the Bruce Museum has decided to devote an entire exhibit to it entitled “Three Sisters & Corn Maidens: Native American Maize Cultivation and Customs”. The exhibit will run from now until June 26 and will explore the role of corn in the Native American cultures of the Northeast and the Southwest. Featured objects include textiles, paintings, pottery, baskets, as well as prehistoric artifacts including agricultural and food processing tools, all related to the use and celebration of corn. For more information please log onto

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; thousand year old petrified cobs have been discovered 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” translates “that which sustains us.” Cultivating corn is responsible for turning 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.

The earliest settlers in America may very well have perished 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 Native 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.

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. It’s also one of the most widely distributed crops in the world. Street vendors around the world sell husked corn, which developed from American settlers adapting the native style of roasting corn without the husks. Whether you enjoy eating corn in any of its varied incarnations or not, the Bruce Museum has prepared a fine homage to this quintessentially American crop giving visitors a taste of pioneer life in early America…

Victoria Baker of Greenwich is an opera singer. A winner of many prestigious competitions, she has performed and worked with distinguished artists across the world (notably at Lincoln Center). She teaches piano & voice privately in Greenwich. For questions that deserve answers, and may be in print, please call (203) 531-7499 or send email to [email protected]



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