BEAUTIFUL CORN: America’s Original Grain from Seed to Plate. Anthony Boutard. New Society Publishers, $19.95.
The past few years have seen a spate of monographs on food plants, and it’s high time corn had its turn. In Beautiful Corn, farmer and naturalist Anthony Boutard offers the perspective of a cultivator of corn as well as a connoisseur. Part botanist’s guide to Zea mays and part farmer’s guide to its cultivation, the book is structured roughly around the growing season, beginning with seeds—their parts as well as how best to plant them—and returning to seeds near the end, with a chapter on how to save them for the next year’s plantings.
Boutard does not neglect the social history of corn, but his focus is on its manifestation in the present: varieties (popcorn, dent, flint and flour); successes and failures in planting; advantages and disadvantages of hybridization; and the work of maintaining heirloom varieties. Black and white photographs, along with illustrations by Esme F. Hennessy, appear throughout; a central color spread shows corn varieties and dissected kernels. (Hennessy’s illustration of a flour corn from the high Andes is shown above.) One chapter is devoted to cooking corn, with recipes for dishes that span the plant’s geographical reach: tamales, hominy, grits, polenta and spoonbread—a puddinglike delicacy I remember eating once in childhood and asking my mother to recreate for years thereafter. She could never recall the dish; I intend to prepare this recipe so we can both try it.
The book’s final chapter describes how the author and his wife, who together own and operate Ayer’s Creek farm in Gaston, Oregon, found that leaving corn stalks in the field over winter was a better practice than planting cover crop. He names the many species of bird that feed in the shelter of the dry stalks, and the winter plants that thrive there—vetches, borage, mustard, chicory. Readers will be left wanting a corn field—or at least a backyard plot—of their own.
Connect With Us:
Happy Birthday to Alvin! August 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Alvin, the submersible that has been so influential in ocean research, including the discovery of hydrothermal vents. In 2014, a retrofitted Alvin also took its first test cruise.
Heather Olins, a doctoral candidate at Harvard, studies microbial ecology at deep sea hydrothermal vents with the help of Alvin, and shares her personal tribute to the submersible on these landmark occasions.
To view all multimedia content, click "Latest Multimedia"!
A free daily summary of the latest news in scientific research. Each story is summarized concisely and linked directly to the original source for further reading.
An early peek at each new issue, with descriptions of feature articles, columns, Science Observers and more. Every other issue contains links to everything in the latest issue's table of contents.News of book reviews published in American Scientist and around the web, as well as other noteworthy happenings in the world of science books.
To sign up for automatic emails of the American Scientist Update and Scientists' Nightstand issues, create an online profile, then sign up in the My AmSci area.