A long, long time ago…
…so long ago that the world was only populated by Indians, there lived a man. He was very lonely. He lived separately from the others. He didn’t know how to make fire, so he only ate roots, bark and nuts. Finally, he felt tired and bored with his loneliness and the atrocious food. He lost his appetite and spent day after day lying exposed to the burning sun and dreaming strange dreams.
One day he heard something rustling beside him. He opened his eyes, and there, standing in the full glare of the sun, was a beautiful woman with long blonde hair.
– Come to me – said the man, trying to catch hold of her at the same time, but when she evaded his clutches, he began crying and singing a wistful song about his loneliness. The beautiful lady finally took pity on him and said:
– Well, I’ll stay with you, but first you must do what I say.
– I’ll do anything you say – the man replied eagerly.
The woman took him to a field of sun – dried grass.
– Now, take two dry sticks and rub them against each other over the grass – immediately sparks appeared and in the blink of an eye, the grass was consumed by fire. After a while, the whole field was burned dry.
– And when the sun goes down – said the woman – grab me by the hair and drag me across the field.
– Come on, I’m not doing that – the man shouted.
– But you simply have to – she said – as wherever you pull me, a new plant resembling tall grass shall grow. And when you see some ears resembling my blonde hair peeking out between the green leaves, that will mean that the seeds of this plant are ready for consumption.
And that’s how corn appeared in the world.
And in fact …
More tales, legends and traditions of this kind about corn are easy to find. They were created by the Indians of Central and South America, because it was this corner of the world that corn first called home. Archaeological research shows that corn was already being cultivated in Mexico 9000 years ago. It is believed that it made a huge impact on the ancient civilizations that developed in the region around southern Mexico and South America. This is particularly evident from the remnants of Mayan culture, where a corn cult was highly developed. Infants had their heads squeezed between chopping boards, so that they could take on the ideal shape of a corn cob!
In fact it was due to the cultivation of corn and potatoes that farming culture began to supplant the ancient Peruvian culture of hunting and gathering.
The Europeans found corn being cultivated across the whole expanse stretching from Canada to Patagonia. The first applications of corn were described in Cuba by Columbus. He also called it “mais” from the Indian name “machiz”.
The first corn specimens were probably delivered to Spain after Columbus’ second voyage. The first printed image of corn was an illustration in Leonard Fuchs’ Herbal, published in 1542. The Portuguese brought corn to the west coast of Africa and India at the beginning of the 16th century, and the plant probably reached Russia via Turkey and Georgia.
Where and how is it used?
The applications of corn are exceptionally wide. The grain is processed into flour, grits, cereals, blown grain (or popcorn – more about this below), a coffee substitute and alcoholic beverages.
Sometimes corn may even serve as a model for a kind of building …
Corn is a raw material used in the production of sugar, oil and fibre. Corn stems and leaves are used in the manufacture of paper, linoleum, rayon and other synthetic fabrics, as well as paint, ink, glue, synthetic resins, supersensitive photographic and film membranes, artificial wood and methylated spirits!
The United States came into being thanks to corn!
Because of its origin, corn is particularly important in America. It’s enough to recall Thanksgiving, which was established to commemorate the beginnings of European settlement in this area. The harsh winter of 1602, lack of food and diseases could have destroyed any chance of survival – if it were not for the Indians, who taught the settlers how to survive thanks to their knowledge of corn cultivation. The crops harvested after the first year gave everyone hope for the future – and as a token of their gratitude they prepared a grand feast, which lasted nearly a week. Even today, during this holiday, apart from the turkey, corn forms the main basis of the Thanksgiving spread on American tables.
So, what is popcorn and how did it reach our cinemas?
And, what about popcorn! The American symbol of trips to the movies! Popcorn production methods were of course familiar as far back as the ancient Mayans. And there is another legend linked to this. It was believed that peace-loving gentle souls lived in corn grains. But when the heat got unbearable, the souls became angrier and angrier, shaking the grains in their fury. And finally, when the temperature got unbearable, the malcontent souls exploded into the air.
However, despite the fact that popcorn – i.e. corn kernels roasted at a high temperature – was familiar so long ago, it was not really popular among Americans until the end of the 19th century.
It wasn’t until 1885 that Charles Cretors from Illinois invented a machine to produce popcorn – making this snack popular throughout the continent. The exploding grains were quite spectacular, so these machines were often placed by the shops’ entrances to attract customers’ attention. And how did they reach our cinemas? That was a coincidence involving several factors.
First of all, the company producing popcorn and popcorn machines gradually conquered the US market. Secondly, the 1920s and 30s were the time of the Great Depression, which led to unemployment, bankruptcies and massive rises in the cost of living. In those days, a bag of popcorn was relatively cheap – only costing between 5 and 10 cents. But this was also Hollywood’s Golden Age, when new movies were being created and the film industry was expanding. Initially, popcorn was sold in front of cinemas – enterprising salesmen knew that this was a lucrative place to set up stall. But cinema owners didn’t approve and ended up incorporating the selling of popcorn into their business interests. And so, popcorn has ruled in (American) cinemas for almost a century.
It is worth noting that there are people who really have a problem with others eating popcorn in the cinema…
An Indian riddle
We would like to conclude this concise history of corn by telling you how man was created according to the Mayans. Well, the gods actually fashioned him from cornflour and blood. So… returning to the legend at the beginning of this article – can anyone tell me what came first: man or corn?