It’s a great time of the year for Nebraskans to embrace our identity as Cornhuskers beyond our loyalty to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln football and volleyball teams. Most of our state is carpeted with green fields of corn that will be harvested this fall as livestock feed and the raw ingredient for ethanol.
And is there anything more yummy than fresh-from-the-farm sweet corn?
Corn has a long history in Nebraska. It was grown by the Pawnee people long before our pioneer ancestors arrived.
Crops — especially field corn — more than calendars determine farm families’ schedules from spring planting season through fall harvest. Most farms in the northwest Franklin County area where I grew up also had big gardens and even larger plots of sweet corn, so “putting up corn” was a late summer family tradition.
Dad, my two older brothers, sometimes Grandpa Potter and maybe a neighbor or two picked the corn ears off the stalks by hand and brought them to the farmyard in the back of Dad’s pickup. My twin sister and I helped remove husks and silks, while sitting on the tailgate or overturned buckets.
Meanwhile, Mom, sometimes a grandma, and other relatives or neighbors prepped the canning and jelly-making kitchen in our farmhouse basement. Water was boiling in pots on the stove when the first shucked and washed ears were ready for cooking.
Almost everyone grabbed pans and knives to cut cooked corn off the cobs so it could be scooped into plastic bags that initially went into our home freezer. Many bags were stored longer-term in a locker drawer at the M&L Market in Wilcox and shared the space with freezer paper-wrapped packages of home-raised beef.
Dad left some ears on the stalks so we could enjoy corn on the cob until the growing season was done. Almost as good was the frozen corn on our dinner plates in the months until it was “putting up corn” time again.
Dad probably didn’t enjoy that tradition as much as the rest of us because he remembered picking field corn by hand as a farm kid. Similar memories about doing farm work with horses was a big reason we rarely had a horse on our place.
The next step in modern farming methods — using a tractor to pull a picker through the field and running the ears through a sheller to remove the kernels — still involved labor-intensive work. Even with today’s modern equipment, farming and ranching are sunrise to sunset or later jobs for much of every year.
As I savored some corn on the cob this week, I wondered if the Cornhuskers in Lincoln understand the work ethic, toughness and determination behind a mascot that might seem silly.
I’ve heard football coach Scott Frost say a major goal for this year’s team is to finish games stronger. Maybe on a day when roasting ears are on the training table menu he should invite farmers to talk to his players about their profession.
Who would be better to reinforce the message that you never quit until the job is done?
Better yet, have players spend a summer weekend roguing soybeans, stacking hay bales, building fences or working cattle on farms and ranches. Or sign them up to compete in the Nebraska and National Hand Cornhusking Contests in Gothenburg Oct. 19-20 during their Big 10 bye week.
Maybe that’s going a little too far toward the goal of helping them understand what most Nebraskans know. A real Cornhusker is much more than a cartoon character on a poster or costumed cheerleader on a football field sideline.
Lori Potter is a Hub staff writer.