Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Old Corncrib

The corncrib was a relic of the days when the previous owner of the farm had grown field corn to feed his cattle, his mules, his chickens, and his family. The corn was harvested after drying on the stalk in the field, and the unshucked ears were stored in the small slat-sided building that was lined with rodent-proof woven wire to protect the precious golden bounty. Nowadays, the corncrib stood empty, but for a few ancient moldy cornshucks. (Art's Blood, p. 123)

This, of course, is the original of the corncrib where Elizabeth and Ben found the unhappy Kyra. It's functioning today as a toolshed and a carport for our little utility vehicle but in 1973, when we bought the upper part of the farm from Clifford and Louise, the corn crib brimmed with fat dry ears of white corn -- Hickory King, I think it was.

Corn was the staff of life on the small farm. Every so often Clifford would take a bag or two of the whole corn to a mill in Tennessee where it would be coarsely ground -- shucks, cobs, and all -- and mixed with cottonseed meal and molasses to make feed for the cows. Every day Louise would pull the shucks off a few ears and toss them to her chickens who would eagerly peck the cobs clean. Nell the mule was the daily recipient of more ears (but not too many, lest too much corn make her 'rank' (overly frisky and unmanageable.) The fattening pig, who lived mostly on buttermilk, foods scraps, and garden waste, would be fed ears of corn during the month or so prior to butchering to "harden up the flesh."

And this same corn, shucked and shelled would be taken, not to the big mill, but to a nearby little mill run by a belt attached to the rear wheel drum of a tractor. The owner of this improvised mill would take his pay in meal -- in a little measure specifically for the purpose. This fragrant meal, which was freshly ground in small batches twice a month, provided the best cornbread in the world. Eaten midday -- hot and steaming out of the wood stove, dripping with home-churned butter, it accompanied an array of vegetables, fresh or home-canned, depending on the season, and a very modest taste of some sort of meat. The leftover corn bread might go to the pigs or the hounds, or, dunked in chilled buttermilk left after the day's churning, provide a light supper.

"You keep the mule to plow the corn and you grow the corn to feed the mule," Clifford told us. Man, animals, and corn -- their existence was interwoven.
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