Corn is a grain that was cultivated by Native Americans about seven Millenniums ago in the geographic area that is Mexico today. Its cultivation led to the spread of the corn plant throughout North, Central, and South America. It became part of the “three sisters,” of cultivated crops that many native tribes adopted: The cornstalk in the field would be climbed by string beans planted near it, and broad leaf squash would also be planted to shade the area around both the cornstalk and the beans, to discourage the growth of weeds. Often, the heads and innards of fish were put in the ground by the natives prior to the planting of the three sisters so that the ground would be more fertile.
Corn, when eaten raw, will give the consumer diarrhea. Once that was learned, consumers tended to cook corn, and the natives learned to parch it. First, they separated the kernels from the cob of mature corn. Then, they made a fire and allowed the wood to become hot coals. Using a cooking vessel (similar to a skillet today), they cooked some animal fat until it created an oil (we would use cooking oil today). They then, added one thin layer of corn kernels and stirred them with a wooded spoon as they parched over the hot coals. Once the kernels were golden brown (not blackened) they moved them to a cool container where they might have added salt and mixed it to get salt on all of the parched corn. Since this cooking method only permitted small amounts of corn to be parched at a time, likely this was an all day undertaking to have an abundance of parched corn.
Parched corn could be stored for use on rainy days when there could be no cooking fire. It could be easily gotten when adults or children were hungry. It provided a ready portable food source when the natives traveled to hunt, to raid other tribes, or when the entire tribe relocated to fresher fields in late winter, which they often did because they understood that repetitive seasonal plantings of crops would deplete the nutrients in the soil. So, they would leave to allow the ground to grow fallow (return to a natural state).
Interestingly, native tribes throughout the Americas struck treaties with other tribes and considered some to either be enemies or sources of things they wanted to take. As Europeans arrived, mostly they were not viewed to be enemies or they were studied because they were so different. In many instances, natives helped the Europeans, to include showing them how to plant the three sisters. Conflicts eventually occurred when a tribe left the land they occupied, and Europeans then moved onto the fallow land. Many years later, the tribe would return to the land, and simply set up camp and use the fields around the homesteading Europeans. The Europeans tended to be outraged that the Indians returned to land that they viewed as having been abandoned, and therefore “gifted” to them. Thus, the term “Indian giver” was derived.
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