ARTICLE: VEDAT BASARAN PHOTO: ONDER DURMAZ
Tasseled waves of grain
Spread round the world from the Americas by Christopher Columbus, corn, with its close to one hundred varieties and thousands of uses, is one of mankind’s staple foods.
What kind of place would the world have been if humans and animals had not been created to require food for nourishment? Perhaps we would never have reached today’s level of civilization. For researchers tell us that the neverending quest of men and animals for ‘bread’ has had an enormous impact on population growth and the expansion of areas of settlement, on the course of the economy and of politics, on defining areas of trade, on the outcome of battles, and on the discovery of the New World. If Europe, which was experiencing a shortage of food, had not begun to seek other sources when the Silk Road came under Ottoman control, perhaps Christopher Columbus would never have sailed the Atlantic Ocean to discover North America in 1492. And neither he nor we would have come to know corn, one of the most important sources of nourishment in the world. Corn, which spread with Columbus to Europe and the rest of the world, is known by various names. In Turkey it is called ‘mısır’ (synonymous with the name for Egypt) since it came to Anatolia via Egypt and Syria. And the corn that is known to have been taken from Turkey to the countries of the Middle East is called by the French ‘Spanish grain’ and ‘Indian’ or pearl millet, even ‘Turkish wheat’.
A THOUSAND TO ONE
A staple food of the North American continent for thousands of years, corn is from the grain family. There are over three hundred varieties with over a hundred related strains, and as many ways of growing it. Yet the first species of corn to have been domesticated remains an unknown. Corn, a thousand grains of which can be produced from just one, is an agricultural crop that can grow in almost every part of the world. And since it can be modified while its basic structure remains intact, it is produced for a variety of purposes. Corn, the cultivation of which requires few tools or instruments, is a crop that can be raised by a single person without additional help. Stored either whole or ground after being dried, corn contributes in a major way to the nourishment not just of humans but of animals. Twenty percent of the corn grown in the world goes to human consumption while the rest finds a host of uses in everything from ethyl alcohol and plastics to animal feed and as a supplement in prepared foods.
A STAPLE OF THE BLACK SEA PEOPLE
In Turkey corn is a staple of the Black Sea people in particular, being grown and consumed most widely in this region. There is no end to the verses and folk songs composed about it and the stories told. Even though the experts claim that the Black Sea is not an ideal place for growing corn, it is nevertheless found in the garden of almost every home. For the steep slopes and mountainous terrain of the Black Sea do not permit the growing of wheat. As a result, corn is present in every dish of Black Sea cuisine from sweets to ‘anchovy birds’ and cheese fondue. You won’t find corn used so widely even on the North American continent.
The ‘mamalika’, for example, that we prepared at the suggestion of Önder Durmaz, our Black Sea photographer colleague, is a dish found in cuisines all the way to the Balkans. It was also a favorite dish of my own childhood as a refugee from Bosnia. ‘Mamalika’, which the Bosnians call ‘kaçamak’, is made by adding cornmeal slowly to boiling salt water and mixing thoroughly. The mixture is then spread on a plate and a well is made in the center and filled with melted butter and sprinkled with bits of cheese. The Black Sea people consume mamalika in every form, as a sweet by adding grape molasses or for breakfast with cheese.
A source of the Black Sea people’s boundless energy alongside anchovies, corn can also be roasted whole over a charcoal fire. But the cooked dishes that are made with it have a special taste. Here are a few that we have selected for you.