What do the Amish and the Aztec Indians
have in common? Corn! Corn
has been used for centuries in the Americas as food for both people and
animals. The creative uses of corn by Pennsylvania Dutch cooks is
legendary. Today corn is even important to the environment, as seen in the
use of ethanol fuel. Most recently, corn has become an
"attraction," as families flock to fields of mazes to challenge
their puzzle-solving skills! Let’s take a look at the world of corn…
A Gift from the Indians
Corn is native to the Americas, and some
form of it was probably growing 7,000 years ago by Native American
Indians. Archaeologists have found 5,000-year-old petrified corncobs in
excavations at ancient Indian villages. Central and South American Indians
ground corn into flour, used the sugary corn leaves as a kind of
"chewing gum," and even enjoyed it as popcorn long before it
became the favorite snack at the movies.
Unknown in Europe, corn was mentioned by
Christopher Columbus in his 1492 journal as "well tasted, baked and
dried and made into flour." Columbus took corn back to Spain, and it
was soon introduced throughout Western Europe.
The Indians gave corn to the earliest
European settlers during their first winter here, probably saving them
from starvation. The Indians planted their corn kernels with small fish
that acted as a fertilizer. The settlers also learned to make many foods
prepared by the Indians from corn, including bread, soup, fried cakes, and
pudding. Corn was even used as money and traded for furs and meat.
|From Field to
Then as now, there were many varieties and
colors of corn. Settlers liked the yellow field corn, and sources say
sweet corn was "discovered" in Pennsylvania in 1779.
Photo courtesy of
Lancaster’s dairy farmers plant seemingly endless fields of corn to feed
their dairy cows. Among Amish farmers, field corn is cut, bound, and run
through ensilage cutters to fill the silo. This provides feed for the cows
over the winter months. Some ears are left to dry on the stalk, then
picked and stored in corncribs. Finally, the brown, dry corn stalks and
leaves can be shredded and the fodder used as bedding for the animals.
||On and Off
We locals love to eat corn-on-the-cob over
the summer. It is a special summer treat to stop at a roadside stand, buy
some fresh-picked corn, take it home and boil it in water, then cover it
with butter and salt. Of course, this is not the yellow field corn grown
and fed to the cows that covers much of the countryside we see. Most of us
prefer white corn-on-the-cob, such as Silver Queen, and it is not unusual
to eat three ears (or more) at one sitting.
Perhaps the most famous dish using corn is
our delicious Chicken Corn Soup, a true regional specialty commonly on
sale at rural fire company dinners, auctions and fundraisers. While some
cooks use noodles, traditional Pennsylvania Dutch chicken corn soup has
little pieces of dough called "rivvels" or "riwwele."
These were most likely a form of the "spaetzle" noodles of
southwest Germany. This soup is said to be a more recent variation of
chicken pot pie, and is one of our most hearty and tasty concoctions.
The Ronks Volunteer Fire Company is famous
for its Chicken Corn Soup dinners. Those not eating at the fire hall
arrive well before noon, take a number, and wait their turn to be called.
Most locals bring several containers to be filled with soup. You’ll
usually see a few Amish kids pulling wagons to transport the delicious
soup home for lunch!
Since corn was so popular, it was
important to find ways of preserving it. So ground corn meal and corn in
relishes became common food items, and have remained so to this day.
Locally, corn is the main ingredient in corn bread, baked corn custard,
corn fritters, corn pone, corn relish, cornmeal mush, pancakes, and even
corn pie, yet another twist on the traditional chicken pot pie.
the days before frozen and canned corn, the kernels were also dried. Thus,
later in the year, this dehydrated corn could be soaked in water, and then
boiled or baked in the oven. When I lived in Central America, I tried
making some dried corn, putting the kernels on the metal roof of my little
house. After a few days in the hot sun, they soon dried. Unfortunately,
the neighbor’s chickens got to the corn before I did! Today, we locals
still enjoy the unique nutty flavor and texture of dried corn. It can be
purchased in our local supermarkets and is served at most family-style
One of the more fascinating uses of corn
is the corn maze, or "maize maze," taking its name from the
early American word for corn. A maze is designed and then cut into the
rows of corn stalks. Visitors enjoy the fun of finding their way through
the labyrinth of pathways.
Here in Lancaster we are proud to have
what the Discovery Channel has called "the world’s biggest
free-standing mind bender." Each year the Cherry-Crest Farm in
Paradise creates a 5-acre puzzle with a different theme each year. Their 5th
Annual Amazing Maize Maze was the
"Lost In Space 2000," As an extra treat, you can ride the
Strasburg Rail Road to the maze, and then catch a later train back to
Strasburg. There are many other fun activities going on besides the maze
itself, so plan to visit the farm between July and October. (Call
717-687-6843 for details.)
It’s All in the Kernel
Inside each kernel of corn is a complete
corn plant. If you take a corn plant two to three feet high and cut the
stalk down the middle with a knife, you will find the tiny
"ears" of corn embedded inside that will slowly push their way
up and out as the corn plant grows. It is truly amazing to see all that
will later develop, in miniature, in a young corn stalk. Eventually, the
pollen from the tassels fertilizes the silky threads that grow from the
ears, and the cob and its kernels start to develop.
For me, corn has one other function….sheer
beauty. The fields of green corn blanketing our farmlands here in
Lancaster are beautiful. As harvest time comes, Amish farmers are out in
the fields with their horses cutting the stalks, and filling silos. Some
Amish farmers still set up shocks of corn to dry in their fields, a rare
sight in America nowadays. Corn is so much a part of life here in so many
ways that it is impossible for me to think of Amish Country and not think
Amish Country News Cover Article
by Brad Igou (June 2000, 2003)
the June dining issue of Amish Country News, we asked chefs at
area restaurants to submit their favorite corn-based recipes. We thought
we would see how many interesting recipes they could come up with. So
here are a few traditional and not-so-traditional ways to cook with
corn. Sample them while you’re visiting Lancaster County's Amish
Country or try them at home!
Chicken Corn Soup
Strasburg Inn Easy Corn Pudding
|Dutch Apple Corn Casserole
Kettle Corn Salsa & Quesadillas
|Good 'N Plenty
Smorgasbord Chicken Corn Soup
Fancy Dried Corn
Did you know...
- Corn is a member of the grass family.
- An ear of corn has about 800 kernels
in its 16 rows.
- A good acre of corn might have up to
- A bushel of corn weighs 56 pounds.
- A bushel of corn can provide 2.5
gallons of ethanol fuel, or about 32 pounds of sweetener or
- Over 3,000 products in the
supermarket contain corn in some form, including cereals, snack
foods, margarine, oil, puddings, soda, and soap.
- A bushel of corn fed to livestock
produces over 5 pounds of beef, 13 pounds of pork, 19 pounds of
chicken, or 28 pounds of catfish!
For more corn facts, visit
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