Ark of Taste
Stowell's Evergreen Sweet Corn
Zea mais v. Stowell’s Evergreen
First bred by Nathan Stowell of Burlington, New Jersey in 1848, this hybrid cross between landrace Northern Sugar corn and Menomy Soft sweet corn was popularized by Professor James Mapes, editor of the Working Farmer, who in 1850 secured 14 ears, boiled them, and served them to breeders at the Fair of the American Institute. Their enthusiasm at the fresh taste prompted Mapes to distribute seed from the editorial office of his journal for two years and to publicize the corn’s virtues. Many listened and experimented.
For a century—until the Rhode brothers released Silver Queen Corn in 1956—it was the favorite white sweet corn variety in the United States. Two eight to nine-inch cobs, with 16 to 20 rows of longish kernels, grew on stalks seven to seven and a half feet tall. Depending on conditions the variety took 80 to 90 days to mature. A late crop corn, it could produce ears into early October. Its name “evergreen” came from its ability to maintain a fresh “green corn” taste in the field longer than virtually any other 19th-century variety.
In 2009’s Home Garden, Eben Eugene Edward in observed, “For flavor, tenderness, and sugary sweetness it cannot be excelled, and when we add to these merits is long-keeping quality, we have in it the ideal corn for table used.” It was eaten in hand, plucked from boiling water, salted and slathered with butter. It was also dried, and sometimes fermented to make “sour corn,” an Appalachian staple.
This variety was so famous a corn by the end of the 19th century that it was cultivated in every region of the country that enjoyed some success growing corn. The introduction of Silver Queen in the 1950s inaugurated a shift in popular taste toward more intensely sweet corn varieties, with less tendency to convert sugar to starch after picking. At the end of the 20th century this tendency was further amplified by two families of hybrid corns: the sugary extender corns and the supersweet corns. Though seed remains available through half a dozen heritage seed brokerages, its current production is decidedly small scale. It remains almost exclusively a home harvest and consumption crop grown by persons who find the currently popular varieties of sweet corn overly sugary.