New England Eight Row Flint

Canada is “like a really nice apartment over a meth lab”. – Robin Williams


My friend Sybil, bless her, just gave me an autographed copy of Dan Barber’s The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, which i started reading immediately.

And then stopped at the end of the first paragraph of the introduction and leaped to the computer to track down information about eight row flint corn.  And then sprang back to the book’s index to find and read all fourteen pages on which this corn is discussed.  And then back to the computer to do some more searching.

Well, see, Barber tells us, “There is evidence…that Eight Row Flint corn dates back to the 1600’s, when, for a time, it was considered a technical marvel.”  Ummmm, considered a technical marvel by whom? The Indians? The Puritans?

Look, my only “training” in biology was a class when i was a sophomore in high school, and corn is complicated.  And when you start Googling around on eight row corn you quickly discover that 90% of the hits are on articles in Spanish, which adds some difficulty.  That said, i easily uncovered evidence in English that the Pueblos in the American Southwest were cultivating eight row corn a millennium before 1600 and that eight row corn existed in Mexico at least as early as 1000 BCE.

So Barber’s date of 1600 seems to me to more appropriately coincide with the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620 and their discovery that the Indians were cultivating this corn at that date.  I’ll leave it to others to determine just how early the Indians in New England were growing eight row corn, but it is clear that the Indians spread corn northwards from Mexico by developing varieties with shorter maturation periods and greater tolerance for cooler weather….and that they had done so long before 1600.

This variety was wiped out in New England in 1816, “the year without a summer”, but Barber tells us that the seeds for the New England Eight Row Flint corn he ate were repatriated a couple of years ago from Italy, where it, locally called “Otto File”, has been under continual cultivation since its introduction in the 18th century.

What set me off on this little research project is that i have eaten eight row corn.  Yes, right here in California, and not the New England variety but rather one that Poli Yerena brought up from Jalisco, where it is prized for its delicious flavor and called Máiz de Ocho.  Yerena planted it here and sold some at his stall at the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market.  It makes a superb posole.

But then, what do they know about posole in New England?

Meanwhile, here’s an interesting building going up on Valencia Street.  Don’t know what it’s gonna be, but good bones.






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