New England heirloom corn grown on its native land for the first time in 300 years

Originally published at: New England heirloom corn grown on its native land for the first time in 300 years | Boing Boing


Amongst the Wampanoag [and, one suspects, many other indigenous folks], beans, squash and corn are routinely planted together and are collectively known as “the three sisters.”


Heirloom corn varieties, including Native ones, are absolutely a thing. For corn meal, cause it’s better corn meal, mostly down South and in the Midwest. Most famously with Anson Mills and some other schmancy flour companies. Yes, as popcorn too.

But also as douchy Martha Stewart grade ornamentals. Second only to gourds and warty pumpkins for be-sweatered fall decorator aesthetics. In fact that King Philip’s Corn looks an awful lot like one of the heirloom “Indian Corn” varieties that we’ve been growing here on Eastern Long Island forever. Chiefly sold these days to make your porch look very expensive in a magazine spread sort of way.

We’ve long been intimately connected over the water to that particular bit of Mass. Pre-Colonization the Tribes here were politically tributary to Pequod and Narragansett Tribes (who are a bit west), and had relationships with the Wampanoag.

Wouldn’t be the first heirloom saved by your cozy country get away.


I remember when my ex bought some heirloom “Indian popping corn” that was multi-colored kernels, but all popped white.

Growing up in a very small town, I remember a lot more people decorated with this corn in the fall than they do now. I always loved the colors.

Also always remember - corn was a New World food! Pretty amazing some of the things we take as a staple were unknown to half of the world over 500 years ago.


Thanks for giving me the opportunity to once again gush about Charles C. Mann’s books on the this very matter. Just superlative work and well-written (not dry!).


These look interesting, I should check them out.

One joke I like to make is - what did Italians eat before the Tomato was brought over from the new world?

“Thisa pasta, it is pretty good. But I wish we had somea sauce to put on it!”


Mann’s work (past and ongoing) is really solid scholarship: fact-based, lively, full of details that, for me at least, gave me plenty of “aha” moments as they have such a direct bearing on the here and now.

The differences in Italy’s regional cuisines are like night and day. I have such fondness for the many kinds of olive oil out in the world that to me, tomato sauce feels like it’s overdoing it, taste-wise. I am in love with various kinds of olive oil, a nice dry wine sauce, herbs in season, and of course… garlic.

In case you’d like a second rabbit hole of reading to plunge into, I just love this book, and it has a lot to say about olive oil, less foodie and more about scandalous and shady stories:


Not trying to snipe nor to be a hand-wringer, but isn’t that casually tossed out faux accent just the sort of thing we are all lately trying to be more conscious of and generally avoid?

1 Like

Mostly grains, vegetables, meat in varying proportions, bread, mushrooms and so forth.

The original ragu sauce is a meat sauce, tomato came along and works well…


Also pasta itself came from China.

Corn still is an exotic “new world” ingredient for much of the world.

Unlike potatoes, about which previously.

Chillies are interesting as Indian chefs swear that they are in the Ayurvedic texts before the European invasion of the americas.

Cuisine is relentlessly multicultural if given the slightest opportunity.


I think pasta in Italy is more complicated than that, possibly it expanded the Italian’s ideas of the shapes that could be made into, but the Romans and Etruscans made a precursor to lasagna, and in Arab historical texts, it seems that Sicily was exporting pasta in 1100.

1 Like

The Cherokees reportedly had 120+ varieties of beans. Is anyone researching these for revival, return, and for non-meat protein?

Locally, there is an heirloom variety of okra which will grow a foot long in a good rainy summer, while retaining its tenderness. It probably was brought here by enslaved African-Americans.

Unglamorous vegetables deserve some love here, dudes.

1 Like

Nobody cares about European decedents mimicking European accents, especially for comedic effect that doesn’t punch down.

Well, I know there are other non-tomato based sauces. And obviously they would have used something else to liven it up. But pasta and tomato sauce is such a staple food for many people, and it is a hallmark of Italian food (or at least the American interpretation of it). I find it ironic that tomatoes were new world imports. (Well, and pasta was from China, so there is that too.)

Just like the accent, it’s a stereotype, one that actually misses a huge swathe of Italian food, much of it more iconic for me. A slice of foccaccia with mortadella, both are quite possibly as old as Rome (they used to provide mortadella to the legions), or pasatelli in brodo, la ribollita, porchetta, prosciutto and figs, the list goes on, and no tomato there.

A lot of what Italians do is adopt foods, as I explained earlier, pasta existed in Italy well before contact with China though it likely gave them more ideas, but I’d say they’ve done more with things like rice, or citrus, or nutmeg, which were imports.

That is likely a myth, pulled from the Marco Polo brought back noodles fairytale.

It probably developed in situ. There’s a long documented history of pasta, and pasta like applications in the Mediterranean, Levant, and Italy itself. First in sort of boiled dough dumplings, and couscous like crumbles. Both produced from a flour water paste. Later sheets of recognizable pasta, used in baked dishes similar to lasagna.

There’s some documentation of noodles proper, the same dough in thin strips, in Arab areas of the middle east. So that format might have been introduced to Italy from that direction or North Africa.

To the extent that either noodles, or pasta, were introduced to these areas from China. It was before even China had noodles, and before there were any written records.

The claim though comes out of attempts to market pasta to Americans, with the Marco Polo discovered it angle used for promotional purposes. I don’t think there’s any actual record of pasta being directly introduced from China, in the time frame of recorded history.

Well they can swear that if they like. But it’s not true. The thing is though I have mostly encountered that myth as part of Hindu Ultra-Nationalist claims.

Which is maybe where I get to well actuallying pasta being a bit interesting.

Food is culture. And the ideas and claims people construct around it are central to how we build identity, in a particularly thorny way with regards to post colonialism and past sins.

The Italians seem to really dislike their signature thing getting attributed to China. The Hindu Nationalists can’t abide the idea that something so central to Indian cooking is so recent, so much of the idea running around there is about the ancientness and primacy of all things Indian and Hindu.

You see really similar things with all things Southern Food in the US. There’s a really obnoxious tendency to label pretty much everything as “traditional Southern Food”. I’ve seen Woopie Pies, originally from the Pen Dutch and mostly associated with Maine. Become a “southern classic”. There’s an increasing push to claim Chowder. A dish almost defined by it’s origins in New England and the Canadian Maritimes. I’ve even read articles claiming that Pastrami, despite it’s very well documented history. Is not a Jewish thing. But instead a dish with origins in Texas. Because Texas Barbecue uses brisket, and no one else ever has ever used brisket.

Amid that. Tons of dishes that were generically American, or very recent, or legitimately southern but specifically Black or Native American. It all get’s tagged with an origin tied to either Plantations. With Happy Slaves ™ having a ho down behind the shed, or starving confederate vets returning from the war inventing it. Among other things. Porches feature in a lot of the origin myths.

It’s part and parcel of the creation of a Southern Identity post reconstruction. Packaging and promoting Lost Cause ideas, erasure and appropriation. But also giving people something to build an identity around that is not the Civil War (however tied in it is). The South becomes a place with “real food”, Southerners people who cook, it becomes the region with “the only uniquely American cuisine”. And so forth. Unpretentious, down home, farmy stuff. Opposed to The North and major city’s fancy stuff and threatening immigrant foods.


Many of them are still around. Lima beans and runner beans are both New World products. A lot of those 120+ varieties were likely runner beans, which have seen a bit of a revival lately and there’s lot of heirlooms getting drug up. As those things were largely grown as ornamentals for a long time.

As goes the Cherokees several specific varieties from them are available these days, and there’s projects target others. These are apparently delicious.

As for non-meat protein. It’s not like heirlooms of any kind are nutritionally much different from any other variety of the same species. And it’s not like they’re gonna magically grow in some way that solves sustainability problems in agriculture. Heirlooms tend to be unsuited to large scale growing for various reasons. Many of these older varieties are being used as breeding stock for the development of new varieties that are appropriate for large scale growing, but retain the better flavor and texture.

It’s part of a market shift away from those flavorless hybrid varieties bred mostly for looks, shipping and storage.

Sure they do. Half of Ireland and a good lot of Irish Americans get very pissed when ever some one does a shit Leprechaun impression.

I myself have yelled at people for shit French accent impressions, and the limp wristed stereotypes that go with them.

It absolutely punches down. Resort to negative stereotype does that inherently.

I’m sure you are right about all the rest, but not that part. Noodles have been discovered in China from before the cultivation of rice.


Thing is if there’s a China connection it would have happened even before that. The records and evidence for early pasta like things in the Near East and Mediterranean seems to be at least that old. It’s possible noodely, dumplingy applications rise up with wheat agriculture, which starts in the Levant. It may predate bread, or be an outgrowth of bread baking.

And it’s kind of telling that we hear “it’s from China” on Pasta, but not on things like Spätzle.

Point being this stuff is old as fuck.

An accent isn’t a stereotype. It is an accent.

I suppose that Italians eating pasta is a stereotype, but I don’t think a negative one. I’d agree an Irish accent pretending to be a leprechaun is a negative stereotype.

I guess is one wants to debate the use of accents in media and specifically comedy, branch out a new thread.

Sending a big ol’ hug for this. The comment that these beans were used for flour is especially interesting. Gram (garbanzo bean) flour is about 30% lower in carbs than wheat flour so a high-yield home-grown (eventually)flour bean will be wonderful news to fans of the “musical fruit”.