By Joy Hought, NS/S Research & Education Program Manager and Melissa Kruse-Peeples, Conservation Program Manager. Published on January 23, 2015.
The earliest varieties of maize must certainly have had small kernels as hard as glass.
– Edgar Anderson & Hugh Cutler, Races of Maize
In many ways, popcorn growing in a farmer’s field today is an anachronism: an organism that stubbornly belongs to another time, a time not only centuries past, but millennia. Small, glassy kernels on compact little cobs were the first identifiable domesticants to emerge from corn’s wild ancestor, teosinte (Zea mays ssp. parviglumis) and haven’t changed all that much in 8,000 years. Right here in our own back yard in the Tucson Basin, some of the oldest archeological evidence of corn in North America was found dating to over 4,000 years ago. This ancient corn was similar to the modern caramel brown Chapalote flint corn but was only an inch or two in length with a very thin cob, about the size of your pinky finger. The Chapalote race of maize is still used today for pinole as well as for popping but the last few centuries the variety now produces much larger ears.