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If you have eaten corn in all its forms since early childhood, it takes a certain effort of mental detachment to see this modified grass for the weird plant that it is. The tallness, the silk, the tassel, and most of all the ear mark corn off visually and botanically from the other grasses cultivated for their seeds. Zea mays most probably began as the wild Mexican grass teosinte, but prehistoric human cultivation grossly inflated its seed head into the ear we know, the ear with its dozens of toothsome and nutritious kernels.

Cornmeal, ground from these kernels, can be exploited as tortillas, polenta, tamales, and a bookful of other recipes crucial to human survival. But the kernel is corn’s natural, “vegetable” form (in the sense of this book). And here are four recipes that show the corn kernel at its best, sweet yet earthy, soft but holding its shape and color.

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