The Story of Corn

Betty Fussell, Author Knopf Publishing Group $35 (356p) ISBN 978-0-394-57805-7
Fussell ( Food in Good Season ) documents the history of corn on many levels in this well-researched book. As food, fertility symbol, genetic marvel, and subject of ancient myths, corn is one of the oldest food staples and a truly American food source. And because the author covers so much material, it's best to approach The Story of Corn bit by bit to avoid being overwhelmed. While it's fun to read about the history of popcorn (popcorn poppers dating back to A.D. 100 have been found in Peru), it's downright fascinating to read about what corn meant to native North and South Americans. Apparently corn was used in everything from funerals to birth rituals; corn images are embedded in the Hopi language. Fussell even tracked down a retired moonshiner to find out how corn was used to make corn whiskey and its more socially acceptable cousins, bourbon and Peruvian chicha . The author, descended from Nebraska farmers for whom corn was a mainstay, weaves her family's history into the larger saga. And along the way, she unfortunately consorts with some rather highfalutinok language (``The migration of my ancestors was across continents, up and away from the earth navel of fallen man. My own journey had been down . . . into the darkness of seeds and roots to find my dead mother and her mothers . . . in the womb not of Eden but of Mother Earth''). But the volume is otherwise so absorbing and well written that she's easily forgiven. Photos not seen by PW. (July)
Reviewed on: 08/03/1992
Release date: 08/01/1992
Paperback - 367 pages - 978-0-8263-3592-0
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-0-86547-545-8
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