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Native American Maize

By Patricia B. Mitchell

The tribes of the middle Atlantic coast planted their corn crops in April, May, and June, insuring a steady supply of fresh corn from August to October. Using a hoe made from a long stick with either a deer antler, a sharp bone, a stone, or a piece of wood attached to the end, they dug a hole into which were dropped precisely four grains of corn and two beans, none of which would touch each other. These holes were dug in rows three or four feet apart. Between the hills of corn were planted pumpkins, peas, squash, and May apples.

Corn was the preeminent agricultural mainstay of the original people here. In fact, Norsemen who visited the easter coast of North American periodically from about A.D. 1000 to the mid-fourteenth century noted the existence of the grain; and Columbus's men reported the use of “mahiz” in Cuba in 1492. (The plant's unrecorded history of course stretches back farther into the recesses of time.)

When Europeans learned of the “new” American grain they referred to it as “Indian corn” because in Europe the word “corn” meant any grain (oats, barley, wheat, etc.). Indian corn is classified botanically as Zea mays; and is different from smaller grains in that corn is planted in the soil, rather than being sown broadcast like wheat and barley. The tribal people grew the five main types of corn, probably developed from two or more wild grasses. Through the centuries flint, flour, dent, pop, and sweet corn had come into being in this land.

The Native Americans baked maize cakes (“appone” or “ponop”) using ground dried corn, water, and salt; or used cornmeal to make a porridge dubbed “samp” (from the Algonquian word “nasaump,” meaning “[cornmeal] softened by water”).


To create a reasonable facsimile of appone, combine the following ingredients:

Spread this mixture approximately 1/2-inch thick in a well-greased heavy pan, and bake at 375° F. for 20-25 minutes or until done; or, using your hands, form elongated 3-inch “bun” shapes, and place on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 375° for around 15 minutes or until the edges start to brown.

Note: To produce slightly more moist, cohesive pone, you may add 2 tbsp. vegetable oil (or melted butter or margarine) to the batter when mixing the ingredients. — Pones are intrinsically crusty and firm (but tasty and “naturally delicious!”). When I have taught “Early American Cooking” classes to children, the lavish use of butter on the baked pones seemed to make this Indian bread more familiar and thus acceptable to the youngsters.