« AnteriorContinuar »
A moral lesson this might teach
-ANONYMOUS. From The Pathfinder.
PART V. OUR LEADING AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTS.
THE CORN OF THE WORLD.
The term “ corn” is applied in agriculture to the seed of the cereal plants. The word is often understood locally to mean that kind of cereal which is the leading crop of a country, and it may be wheat, barley, oats, maize (Indian corn), rye, millet, or even rice. It is written in Genesis: “And all countries came into Egypt to Joseph to buy corn; because the famine was sore in the land." The grain mentioned in this quotation was probably wheat. Again, in Roman history we read of a great popular uprising because bread was scarce, and the Gracchi became great tribunes of the people because they advocated more favorable corn laws. The grain referred to was wheat. Rice is corn in China and Japan, rye in northern Europe, oats in Scotland, and wheat in England. Ruth gleaned ears of corn in the barley fields of Boaz, while in Pharaoh's wonderful dream the seven good ears of corn that devoured the seven thin and blasted ones were probably ears of wheat. In America an ear of corn means an ear of maize, or Indian corn, our national grain.
It was natural that the cereals should become the source of all our bread. They may be easily preserved, while tubers and bread fruits soon decay. Wheat, barley, oats, Indian corn, millet, and rye, if properly cared for, remain unhurt by cold climate, warm climate, dry climate, or damp climate. Hence their great value to the world.
THE ORIGIN AND DISTRIBUTION OF WHEAT. It is impossible to ascertain definitely the geographical origin of wheat. It seems to have been a food for man since the beginning of history and to have developed as man has developed. Evidence points to the Valley of Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization, as the birthplace of wheat, and from this center it is supposed to have spread to Phoenicia and to Egypt. The Chinese considered it a gift from heaven, and the Egyptians attributed its discovery to Isis. The most ancient languages mention it; it is found among the relics of the ancient Swiss lake dwellers; it was cultivated in China 3,000 years ago, and it was a chief crop among the ancient Hebrews.
It has been said before that all the cereals sprang from a kind of wild grass. Wheat, therefore, is related to all the other cereals, but in importance it has outclassed them all.
Wheat was not grown in the new world until after Columbus's discovery. Maize, or Indian corn, was the chief food of the Indians. It is said that a negro slave of Cortez found three or four grains of wheat in the rice which served as a food for the Spanish army. These were sown and thus wheat was introduced into Mexico. The first wheat sown in the United States was by Gosnold, in 1602, on the Elizabeth Islands, off the southern coast of Massachusetts. It was first cultivated in Virginia in 1611, and in the present State of New York by 1622.
It is easy to see that the migration of wheat has been closely connected with the migration of peoples. It is the one cereal that civilized people carry with them, and wherever they make their homes they quickly develop a variety that can be cultivated. This was especially true before the days of the railroad and the steamboat, when it was difficult to transport foods any great distance overland.
It is not as important, commercially, in America as Indian corn and does not adapt itself to new lands and changes in environment so readily. Corn was the main support of the early colonists and the pioneers, but wheat has followed the westward migration of population, and the center of wheat production to-day is in the Middle West.
Wheat is more widely cultivated than any other cereal. It is cultivated from the Arctic almost to the Antarctic circle and in every longitude of the globe, and there is not a month in the year that some nation is not harvesting it. It is interesting to observe when wheat is harvested in different countries : January-Austria, New Zealand, Chile.. February and March_Upper Egypt and India. April—Lower Egypt, India, Syria, Cyprus, Persia, Asia-Minor, Mexico, Cuba. May—Texas, Central Asia, and northern Africa. June-Southern and trans-Rocky Mountain States of America, Turkey, Greece,
Italy, Spain, Portugal. July—New England, Middle Atlantic and Northwestern States of America, Up
per Canada, Roumania, Bulgaria, Austria, Hungary, Southern
Russia, Germany, Switzerland, Southern England.
Holland, Great Britain, Denmark, Poland, central Russia.
It will thus be seen that, since wheat is cultivated in so many different latitudes and altitudes, there must be a great number of varieties, and this is true.
THE VALUE OF WHEAT. If a nation can be judged at all by its food, wheat would doubtless be the one grain that would serve as standard of measurement. It seems to be the tendency of the civilized world to raise its standard of living, and as it rises, wheat becomes a relatively more important part of human food. Rye and oats furnished the bread of the great body of people in Europe during the Middle Ages. Wheat was highpriced and not extensively grown. England early became a wheateating nation. France, Spain, and Italy followed later. Rye is still extensively used in Germany, but wheat is gradually superseding it. Russia is now using more wheat flour than she did 20 years ago. Taking the civilized world as a whole, therefore, wheat forms the principal food of man. It is much more widely distributed over the world than corn or rice. It is a prime necessity of civilized life, and the quantity milled is larger than that of all other cereals combined.
Wheat is essentially a bread cereal. Not only does it have great superiority in sustaining life, but a large variety of healthfui, palatable, and attractive foods are made from it, either wholly or in part. Breads, pastries, crackers, breakfast foods, macaroni-products of wheat in almost endless variety in composition, form, and appearance are found on the table and in the market.
Although it is the most valuable food for civilized man, its cultivation has had a wonderful influence on agriculture in general. It is more easily cultivated than any other cereal. Therefore, improved tools and modern machinery could be more easily invented for cultivating wheat than for cultivating any other cereal. From the crooked stick for plowing, we have come to modern drills, harrows, cultivators, reapers, thrashers, steam plows, and the combination of reaper and thrasher drawn by heavy engines. All these were first applied in the cultivation and harvesting of wheat, and modifications of them were made for the cultivation of other plants.
IN THE WHEAT FIELD.
When the lids of the virgin Dawn unclose,
When the earth is fair and the heavens are calm,
Floats on the air in balm,
That ripples and thrills to a sportive breeze,
And its subtle odor of southern seas;
-PAUL HAMILTON HAYNE,
HISTORY OF MAIZE.
When Columbus landed in the new world he found the natives eating a food made from a peculiar grain unlike any produced in the Old World, and to distinguish it from the corn of Europe, we have learned to call it Indian corn. In 1498 Columbus observed large fields of this grain growing on the island of Haiti, and in writing to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain he described an expanse of 18 miles of cornfields. A few years later, another Spaniard, Hernando Cortez, in his march to the city of Mexico, wrote of passing through great fields of corn; and nearly every other explorer of the New World noticed this peculiar plant and the queer-shaped ears of corn. It is little wonder that they took special notice of it, since all the grain cultivated in Europe was similar to wheat, oats, or rye. The corn of the Indians therefore was a curiosity.
Early English explorers in writing of it described it as follows:
The graine is about the bignesse of our ordinary English pease, and not much different in form and shape, but of divers colours; some white, some red, and some blue. All of these yielde a very white sweete flavoure and being used according to its kind, it maketh a very good bread.
The inhabitants of Haiti called the grain mahiz, hence the name maize, and Europeans in referring to it still call it maize. Many authorities believe that the grain originated in Mexico and took its name from a tribe of Indians living in southern Mexico. But when Columbus discovered America it was the leading food of the Indians from the Arctic Circle to the Torrid Zone. The grain, however, was so unlike the cereals of the Old World that the Europeans did not like to use it as a food. They watched the Indians parch it or pound it into meal, but the bread made from it was not so pleasant to their taste as the European bread, and, as a rule, the early explorers ate it only when necessary to prevent starvation. Over 100 years passed after Columbus's great discovery before the settlers from Europe learned its real value. This corn of the Indians was the one grain, however, that was to make America prosperous and end the great famines of the world. It was this grain that saved the first colonies along the coast, and supported the pioneers as they pushed westward.
When the coastal plains were settled and all the river bottoms were taken up, the population pushed westward, fighting the Indians and the wild beasts, until the fertile valleys of the Mississippi and its tributaries were reached. It took nearly two centuries and a half for the white man to take full possession of that great river valley and to send its products to the markets of the world. Not since the Nile Valley fed so many people has such a large part of the inhabitants of the world been fed from one river valley. It was maize Indian corn—that gave strength to the settlers to make this