Corn Again

We’ve just had our annual “Design Fusion” event, where the Hawkwood core team look at the growing site and set priorities for developments over the coming year. As is the tradition, the process began with a “visioning” excercise, where we each imagined the Nursery in five years’ time. When the utopian visions were relayed , it was striking that only one vegetable was specifically singled out for mention, not once, but twice. That vegetable was sweetcorn: for a relatively minor and recent addition to our planting plan, this was no mean achievement.

I could offer a few explanations as to why Zea mays is “straight in at number one” amongst the growers here at Hawkwood. They’r e an impact plant: as you enter Free London through the Community Nursery gates, they raise their fists to you from the Entrance Field, rising up above the low-lying vegetables. At over six foot, we sense that, somewhere in our primordial souls, our spirits seek a vertical range in the landscape, a dimension sadly lacking in most annual crops.

For me, corn will forever echo the Mayan milpa plantings I witnessed in January, incredibly gardened in sheer scree in the mountains of Chiapas. Lento pero avanzo – [slowly, but we advance] as the “people of the maize”, the Zapatista indigenous communities, say.

Maybe it’s this local growing of a global plant that we like: at the Hornbeam Cafe Ryan,¬† a great advocate of food as a bridge across cultures, was allegedly moved to tears on experiencing “Caribbean” corn coming down from Chingford; whilst a couple of weeks ago I was in the field when an African man pulled up in his car, got his child out of the back, walked up to the towering plant and proceeded to demonstrate, in energetic gesticulations, how corn-on-the-cob is borne.

Maybe these are reasons why we want to see this golden grain growing more prolifically here into the future. But somehow I feel these are all secondary: the crux of the matter is that corn-on-the-cob, with a smattering of butter or oil, salt or pepper if you will, is up there with the best of all culinary experiences. And, like asparagus, globe artichokes and strawberries, its season – its true, local season – is so short, so sweet.


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