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Popcorn for Breakfast
Photo by Jon Russo

Popcorn for Breakfast 

May 1, 2018
by Ron Skaar

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Maize, or corn, was domesticated in Mexico some 7,000 years ago from a large grass which thrived in open woodlands. It was cultivated as a crop there, and in Central America, as early as 3,400 B.C.,eventually becoming a dietary staple throughout the Americas.

An important nutritional source for thousand of years, corn is not actually a vegetable, but a grain seed of a type of cereal plant. Corns extreme evolution culminated with a concentrated pollen product on the top of the plant along with female producing cob and kernels along the main stock of the shoot.

The large, sturdy plant made corn easy to grow agriculturally and it became a basic food source for many early American cultures. Indigenous cultures in North and South America were depended on corn as a dietary staple. The Incas of Peru, the Maya’s and Aztecs of Mexico, the cliff dwellers of our Southwest, the Mississippi mound builders and the Huron Indians, with their buried fermented corn, are some of the more prominent examples.

European colonists brought grains with them which did not grow well in the New World. They were taught by the native tribes how to survive on corn. The colonists learned to prepare corn pone, corn fritters, corn bread, succotash and corn chowder from their local Indian hosts.

They even enjoyed popcorn as a breakfast cereal drizzled with fresh milk and maple syrup.

Of a handful of crops the New World shared with the Old, corn is one Columbus brought back with him to Europe. The cultivation of corn quickly spread throughout Europe and Asia.

Later migrations to the United States brought new corn recipes with them, like Italian polenta or the Romania corn porridge, mamaliga.

Now, corn is the third largest human food crop in the world, after wheat and rice, and is the primary source of nourishment for millions of people in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

The United States produces over 40% of the worlds corn crop. Family farmers throughout the Midwest and Great Plains account for 90% of our corn crop production with an incredible 87% of that grown uses only naturally occurring rainfall!

Field corn or “dent” accounts for the majority of cultivated corn. Allowed to build up starch, then dried, this is the variety most commonly grown for animal feed, along with corn oil, corn syrup, mash for making whiskey and to produce ethanol.

Newly developed sugar-sweet corn varieties contain three to five times more sugar than their old counterparts. Most varieties are a good source of carbohydrates, fiber, B vitamins and a handful of minerals. Only yellow corn contains beta carotene and carotenoids, which are associated with healthy eyes and may help to prevent cataracts and age related macular degeneration.

Back in the mid-seventeen century, the pioneers were combining familiar European cooking techniques and corn porridge native to America, to create new dishes. Native Americans did not use deep frying for foods. The corn fritter was probably invented in the Southern United States where the traditional cuisine includes a lot of deep frying.

Corn fritters are one of the South’s finest and most typical dishes, savored along side fried chicken, Lima beans and garden tomatoes. Since corn has played an essential role in American cuisine, it is fitting that our national corn fritters day is a dozen days after we celebrate our independence.

This recipe is a favorite, of many, from The Heritage of Southern Cooking by Camille Glenn.

Delicate Corn Fritters

Ingredients:

2 ears tender fresh corn

1/3 cup shifted all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 eggs, separated

1/2 teaspoon salt

Cayenne pepper to taste

Splash of milk or cream

Grape seed oil for deep frying

Instructions:

Cut the corn from cobs and scrape the cobs well to extract the milk. You should have 1/2 cup corn. Shift the flour with the baking powder and mix it with corn and egg yolks. And salt and cayenne pepper. Stir in milk to mixture.

Heat about 1/2 inch of oil in deep pan to about 375 degrees. Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry and fold gently into corn mixture.

Drop the batter by tablespoons into hot oil and cook until browned on one side, about 2 minutes. Turn and when both sides are golden, remove with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels. Serve at once.

Serves 4. Accompany with maple syrup, if desired.

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