I’m interested in vegetables, small farm animals, and poultry which have stood the test of time and there are a great many varieties my grandparents knew that are still around. I’ve been particularly interested in Country Gentleman and Stowell’s Evergreen corn. Hugh Findley recommended both varieties for the home gardener in his “Practical Gardening: Vegetables and Fruits”, published in 1918.
Sweet corn began as a mutation in standard field corn which was then improved upon over several generations until a stable variety was produced. Sweet corn was known to Native Americans and documented in the U.S. in the 1770’s.
Country Gentleman is a shoe peg corn meaning the kernels are not in rows on the ear. It was so named because the kernels resembled the wooden pegs used to attach shoe soles. It was introduced in 1890 by S. D. Woodruff & Sons and remains the most popular shoe peg corn today.
Stowell’s Evergreen corn was bred by Nathaniel Stowell of Burlington, NJ. He was born on May 16, 1793 in Mass. In 1848, Stowell is said to have sold two ears of the corn to a friend for $4.00 with the stipulation that the friend keep it for his own use and not sell or distribute it. Unfortunately for Mr. Stowell, his friend valued money more than trust or friendship and sold the corn to Thoburn Seed Co. for $20,000. Thus the man who created it never profited from it while his unscrupulous “friend” enjoyed a hefty sum of money from it.
Stowell had tweaked his corn by crossing Menomony Soft and Northern Sugar Corn. It was already popular before 1850 as noted in the “Pennsylvania Farm Journal”, May 1853. “It has been introduced to the agricultural public mainly through the agency Professor Mapes; who has sent out thousands of samples of the seed to the readers of his paper in various parts of the country. He gives the following account of it in his paper for December, 1850:
Stowell’s sweet corn is a new sort, and is every way superior to any other we have seen; for, after being pulled from the ground, the stalks may be placed in a dry, cool place, free from moisture, frost, or violent currents of air, (to prevent drying,) and the grains will remain full and milky for many months. Or the ears may be pulled in August, and by tying a string loosely around the small end, to prevent the husks from drying away from the ears, they may be laid on shelves and kept moist and suitable for boiling for a year or more. This corn is hybrid, between the Menomony soft corn and the Northern Sugar corn, and was first grown by Mr. Nathan Stowell of Burlington, N.J. Near the close of the Fair of the American Institute, 1850, I presented the Managers with two ears, pulled in August, 1849, and twelve ears pulled in 1850. They were boiled and served up together, and appeared to be alike, and equal to the corn fresh from the garden.
The ears are larger than the usual sweet corn, and contain twelve rows. To save the seed, it is necessary to place the ears in strong currents of air, freed from most of the husks, and assisted slightly by fire heat when nearly dry. In damp places this corn soon moulds, and becomes worthless. The seed when dry, is but little thicker than writing paper, but is a sure grower. The stalks are very sweet, and valuable as a fodder.”
A writer in the “Rural New Yorker” tried it in 1851 and speaks thusly of it: “Until it began to tassel out, it appeared very much like enormous broom corn, and exhibited no symptoms of putting forth ears until very late in the season, when it eared rapidly and bore three very large, full ears on all the best stalks, and in some cases the fourth was fairly set. Only a very few of the stalks bore single ears. It matured rapidly and very perfectly; but it was many weeks after frost set in, and the corn was housed, and after the husks had become entirely white, before any of the kernels presented the shriveled appearance of sweet corn.
That it will do all that has been said of it I have no reason to doubt, as far as my observation through one season extends. I am satisfied it is a most valuable acquisition to our sweet corn. It grows freely, is of the first quality, and produces in my garden this season far beyond any corn I have yet seen. Besides the greater number of grains on a stalk, each ear and kernel is very large, although it dries down for seed to a very small ear and kernel. Very few of the ears have less than fourteen rows, and I have just noticed an ear of it only seven inches long, and yet it had sixteen rows, and contained more than eight hundred kernels. The day I planted this corn I planted an equal number of hills of a very superior kind of sweet corn, the kernels of which most perfectly resembled this; and although the exposure and soil were equal, yet the Stowell corn surpassed it in every respect. I shall try it another season with increased interest”.
Another writer stated in 1852 in the same New York paper said he considered it a “humbug” when he read of Stowell’s keeping qualities, but planted a trial of it anyway after which he was pleasantly surprised with its quality…”it matured in good time and produced from three to seven perfect, good ears on a stalk; and one stalk had on it sixteen – the shortest about two inches, but well filled out, and all ripe enough and good for seed”.
Professor Mapes told readers that Stowell’s Evergreen corn produced more stalks and leaves than any other and that cows preferred it to the best English hay. The drawback was that it, like all hybrids, tended to revert back to the parent corn it was bred from when saving seed.
That it is a successful variety in every respect cannot be doubted from the testimonials, and some 150 years later it can grow in our gardens as may have in our ancestors’ gardens. Blissful Meals, yall.©