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Corn Cob Hype 

It's more than decor

You can hang it up, but can you eat it? This time of the year, everywhere you look doors are decorated with bunches of Indian corn, those colorful cobs of red, white, yellow, blue and brown kernels. They're also used as table decorations in floral arrangements or in cornucopia baskets.

The corn that gives our homes an autumnal look is dried -- often in kilns -- and although we probably wouldn't want to eat it, squirrels, mice and birds find it irresistible, so keep it out of their reach. When you take it down to festoon your house with pine, holly and twinkling lights, the corn could last for a couple of years if it's stored in paper bags or cardboard boxes.

You don't see fresh Indian corn very often, but it is edible, as Native Americans taught the Pilgrims. They roasted some of the corn while it was green, and dried the rest to make hominy (as in hominy grits) or cornmeal for cornbread, corn pudding, etc. Native Italian-Americans made polenta.

The multi-colored kernels on Indian corn occur naturally. Each kernel on a single ear of corn has its own set of genes, and therefore could be a different color from its "sibling" kernels that share the ear. One-color ears are the unnatural products of human selection. Livestock feeders prefer the vitamin-rich yellow kernels; Southerners, they say, like the sweet white kernels; and Native Americans prefer blue. Years of deliberate selection, careful pollination and scrupulous storing of seeds produced these single-color corn ears. That means we've been eating genetically modified corn for a lot longer than most of us realized.

Native North Americans were cultivating corn as far back as 7,000 years ago, so even though biological engineering produced today's monochromatic corn, credit for this vital crop should go to them. And if it weren't for Native Americans showing the English settlers how to grow corn, we'd have to hang fish and chips on our doors at Thanksgiving.

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