While recently working on an article about Native American gardening and vegetable varietes traced back to Native Americans, I was struck by what I learned about one corn variety in particular, ‘Puhwem’ corn.
According to author and food historian William Woys Weaver, ‘Puhwem’ is one of the tallest Native American corns known, reaching about 18 feet. The photo seen here shows the impressive, towering nature of this corn. Pictured in this shot is Josiah Taylor, the 6-foot-3-inch-tall farmer at Mill Hollow Farm, standing by the corn just to give viewers an idea of proportion. One advantage of growing this variety is that it’s raccoon-proof because the corn grows so high up on the plants.
Native peoples used corn differently than we tend to. In the case of this corn variety, so much more than just the kernels were valuable. ‘Puhwem’ plants become similar to bamboo if dried, so the stalks were sewn together and used for making structure walls. The huge leaves were woven into mats, shoes, hanging room dividers, and even structure roofs.
Weaver explained to me that Puhwem is considered a “mother corn,” meaning it was a sacred variety that was likely planted first. Because nearly every part of the plant was utilized, the variety was a “total provider” for the people.
‘Puhwem’ mother corn is also one of the best Native American corns for making corn flour. It has exceptional, rich flavor and is wonderful in dumplings and baked goods.
Mill Hollow Farm in Pennsylvania is currently the only seed source for this corn variety. The farmers there grow the corn organically and hand-sort the seed. To order seed corn from this farm, you may send a check or money order payable to Mill Hollow Farm; P.O. Box 501; Edgemont, PA 19028. The cost is $14 per 8-ounce packet (includes postage).
Shelley Stonebrook is MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine’s main gardening editor. She’s passionate about growing healthy, sustainable food and taking care of our environment. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest and Google+.
Photo By Rob Cardillo