Maize Day is celebrated every year to mark the special role that maize has played in food history. Maize, which the Europeans came to call “corn,” has an ancient and interesting history and plays central roles in many native myths and legends. And anyone who’s ever eaten corn on the cob with fresh creamy butter and a pinch of salt knows that corn more than deserves its own holiday!
History of Maize Day
With the help of their legends, the natives of America could trace the history of maize to the beginning of time. Maize was, they believed, the food of the gods that had created the Earth, and so it played a central role in many native myths and legends. It also came to be one of their most important foods.
In fact, the word maize itself derives from the Spanish form of the indigenous word for plant. In one form or other, maize made up roughly 65 percent of the native diet. In fact, maize was so important to the natives that when Europeans first came to North America in search of gold and asked the natives about whether there was any precious yellow substance to be found there, the natives showed them corn, for to them there was almost nothing more valuable than that grain.
The European settlers had in fact brought their own grains with them, but they soon found that their barley and oats did not fare as well in North America as they had in Europe, and so they began grinding corn kernels to make meal that was later used to make bread. And like the natives, colonial farmers also found that different parts of the plant had a number of useful by-products and purposes. They used cobs to start fires and to fuel slow-burning fires. They used its stalk and leaves for livestock feed.
They used husks to make brooms and chair bottoms as well as to pad mattresses and collars for draft animals. Maize was the first-ever crop to be domesticated by Native Americans and this impressive crop is now used in numerous types of food including chewing gum, bread, corn flakes, and popcorn. Maize is almost universally used as one of the main ingredients of feed for cows and horses. “Feed maize” is being used increasingly for heating; it is burned in special corn stoves.
All in all, maize is thought to have been around since 1500 B.C., and once it was first cultivated it began to spread rapidly. Until this day, it is the staple food in many South American countries and is also enjoyed as a side dish by people all over the world.
How to celebrate Maize Day
Of course, the best way to celebrate Maize Day is by gathering with friends and family to eat a special meal made from different types of maize, in different forms and added to all different types of dishes. The possibilities are almost infinite!
From Mexican dishes such as tacos, tamales, and quesadillas, to Italian polentas, to the cornmeal mush of the US army, to alcoholic drinks made from fermented maize, such as chicha Morada, everyone will find something that is to his or her taste.
A number of special events are also held around the world on Maize Day, including maize growing and cooking competitions, special cooking classes, maize craft classes, and demonstrations.