Throughout Europe, "corn" has always been the generic name for any of the cereal grains; Europeans call corn maize, a derivative of the early American Indian word mahiz. In fact, before settlers came to the New World Europeans had never seen this food — called Indian corn by colonists. What a wonderfully versatile and useful gift the Indians gave the world. Everything on the corn plant can be used: the husks for tamales, the silk for medicinal tea, the kernels for food and the stalks for fodder. Corn is not only a popular food, but the foundation of many by-products including bourbon, corn flour, cornmeal, corn oil, cornstarch, corn syrup, corn whiskey and laundry starch. The multicolored Indian corn — used today mainly for decoration — has red, blue, brown and purple kernels. Horticulturists developed the two most popular varieties today — white (Country Gentleman) and yellow (Golden Bantam) corn. Yellow corn has larger, fuller-flavored kernels; white corn kernels are smaller and sweeter. Shoepeg corn is a white corn variety with uneven rows of small kernels prized for their sweetness. The hybrid butter and sugar corn produces ears of yellow and white kernels. The peak season for fresh corn is May through September. The minute it's picked, the corn's sugar begins its gradual conversion to starch which, in turn, lessens the corn's natural sweetness. Therefore, it's important to buy corn as soon after it's picked as possible. Look for ears with bright green, snugly fitting husks and golden brown silk. The kernels should be plump and milky, and come all the way to the ear's tip; the rows should be tightly spaced. Fresh corn should be cooked and served the day it's purchased, but it can be refrigerated up to a day. Strip off the husks and silk just before cooking. Corn can also be purchased canned or frozen. Tiny baby corn, particularly popular with Thai and Chinese cooks, can be purchased in cans or jars. Unfortunately, its flavor bears little resemblance to the fresh (or even frozen) vegetable. Hominy is specially processed kernels of corn. Corn is high in soluble fiber and is a good source of the B vitamin, folic acid and the antioxidant lutein.

From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

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