Tuesday, August 14, 2007

corn, sweetcorn, maize

Hello from Upstate New York, where Better Half and I are stationed for our second wedding reception. You should try this bi-continental couple thing, you get more parties than regular ol' couples. On our second day here, BH and I went out for a Mexican meal (BH: "Look at how cheap this is! How do they sell food for so little? Look at how much this costs!"). BH asked for "a glass of water", and true to my past story-telling, the waiter asked him to repeat that three times, after which the waiter gave up and asked "Could you explain to me what that is?"

But being here, barbecuing, eating fresh peaches from down the road, and fighting the mosquitos puts me in the mood to answer an old message from Kelley in Delaware, starting with its second half (to be continued...):
Another seasonal phenomenon [...] is corn on the cob. I understand that BrE calls this vegetable “maize,” in which case the alliteration is lost. What is it called when corn/maize is sold and eaten as an entire ear? Furthermore, the process of removing the husk and silk is called “shucking” in AmE; is there a BrE equivalent?
In BrE, corn on the cob is called (surprise, surprise!) corn on the cob. BrE names for (AmE) corn have come up in the comments for another post, where it was pointed out that it's not so simple as corn=maize. In BrE corn retained for longer the earlier meaning of 'grain' (this is present in both dialects still in compounds like barley(-)corn, and pepper(-)corn), whereas in AmE, it came to refer specifially to a certain kind of grain. Because BrE didn't until recently generali{s/z}e the meaning of corn in this way, it used Indian corn or maize (from Taíno via Spanish mahiz, later maíz) for this particular plant. Maize refers to corn as a grain, rather than in its use as a vegetable (though you might see maize on ingredients lists in vegetably-things like this). So the term sweetcorn is used in BrE to refer to corn kernels eaten as a vegetable. Eaten very differently than in the US. In the UK, one may be served (sweet)corn cold as a part of a salad (or not), and it is a popular pizza topping. One of my favo(u)rite restaurant pastimes is to check out the ingredients of the "American pizza" or "American omelet(te)" etc. While American pizzas are usually pepperoni pizzas, sometimes they come with (sweet)corn, to which most Americans say (AmE) YUCK! (v. BrE yuk). Here are a few others:

Americano pizza, Locatelli, Exeter: mozzarella, tomato, pineapple & ham
(that's what Americans and many UK restaurants would call a Hawaiian pizza; Some Americans, including me, think that there is something seriously wrong with anyone who orders/eats this.)
Pizza Americana, La Vita Pizzeria, Glasgow: Smoked sausage and caramalised [sic] onions on a tomato base topped with Mozzarella cheese.
(not overwhelmingly American, but sounds much nicer...)
American Chicken Pizza, from American Fried Chicken and Pizza, Poole: Cheese, Tomato, Chicken, Sweetcorn, Mushrooms & Pineapple
(Ugh.)
For more pizza fun, see the Dial-a-Pizza menu from St Helens, Merseyside. They have pizzas named for many American states and cities. The match-up between names and ingredients is fairly mysterious....

But back to Kelley's questions... Shuck is listed as 'orig. and chiefly U.S.' in the OED. BH learned the word from me when I first brought unshucked corn home from Waitrose [supermarket]. But unshucked corn is a rarity in the UK, so one doesn't have much of a need for a speciali{s/z}ed verb for husk-removal. The usual way to buy corn-on-the-cob in the UK is to find it shucked, de-silked and with the pointy end cut off, sitting on a (BrE) polystyrene/(AmE) styrofoam bed, wrapped in plastic. In the 7+ years that I've lived in the UK, the quality of corn-on-the-cob has improved drastically. When I first tried it there, I remarked that it seemed to be the kind of corn that we give to livestock (feedcorn), rather than the kind we give to people. It was generally picked way too late. These days, we're getting some beautiful c-on-the-c from Spain that is almost as good as the stuff we buy from farmers on the roadside here. (BH rises to defend Spanish (sweet)corn and revises that to "every bit as good".)

39 comments:

Bill said...

That Pizza Menu is hilarious.
I would like to formally say that if any pizza has (sweet)corn on it, it is not American. (ha ha The Maryland one is particularly funny as I live in Maryland, and neither of those items are associated with here at all...)

But one thing I saw sparked a huge question that I don't think I have seen on this site before...
Donor Meat

To my American ears this sounds like it would be human...(ie. Bloor or organ donor) Obviously (hopefully ;)) this is not the case...what is it?

Bill said...

(Editing my above post)
Apparently it is spelled "DonEr Meat"

mopalia said...

I'm guessing that DonEr meat is related to donair and doner in this post: http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/004823.html

Anonymous said...

Doner meat is what you'd find on a doner kabob. Sort of like gyro meat and, at least in northern Virginia, not a very odd thing on a pizza. (All our local pizza places, vs. the national chains, are Greek owned and have at least one "Greek pizza" item on the menu, with feta cheese and gyro meat and oregano and the like.)

Even odder than (sweet)corn on pizza, by the way, is the stuff that can show up on pizzas in South Africa. I recall a place in Durban that had some pizzas with banana on them. When I first saw that, I assumed it had to mean banana peppers, but was told by locals that, no, they thought banana was a perfectly plausible thing to put on pizza.

Peter said...

qmxsrlrhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D%C3%B6ner_kebab

I would imagine it is connected to "doner kebab" -take-away food poisoning!

Anonymous said...

I, for one, am one of the "insane" people who likes pineapple on pizza.
Now everyone shuns it when they hear it, but I have never had anyone not like it once they tried it.

It is a combonation of salty and sweet so I would say that if you like things like chocolate covered pretzels you will like pineapple on pizza.

And I have had corn/sweetcorn on pizza before and it was fine. It's not like it was ALL corn or something like that. Just a few things sprinkled on the rest of the veggies/veg.

bill said...

Ahhh...yeah, over here we generally call it Gyro meat. But Gyro meat is generally sliced, and would not be on a Kebob(Or is it Kebab?)
When it is on a Kebob we generally would just call it lamb.

Rebecca said...

There is definitely something wrong with Hawaiian pizza, and sweetcorn on pizza, definitely.

I don't think I've ever said maize in my life, though.

mark said...

Doner kebab meat comes from the factory on a giant skewer, which is all grilled and the outside scraped off as it cooks. Presumably it's called a kebab because it's grilled on a skewer.

Kebab shops are a common takeaway in the UK - there's at least one in every town and far too many in cities full of students. The main thing on their menu is a "doner kebab" which is donor meat scraped into a pitta bread with salad.

"Shish kebab" is more like you imagine a kebab to be, but it's still taken off the skewer and put into a pitta bread by the time it's served.

A good doner kebab is not unpleasant, though hardly gourmet food. However, the main market for them is drunk students so quality isn't always a top priority.

mollymooly said...

From wikipedia chatter: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Reference_desk/Archives/Miscellaneous/2007_June_13#Corn_called_.22maize.22.3F

Note unambiguous uses in Britain such as "corn on the cob", "popcorn", "baby corn". Kellogg's don't sell "maize flakes" anywhere

fanf said...

"Corn" when used unqualified by a Brit often means "wheat".

Anonymous said...

If you think sweetcorn or pineapple are odd, you're not going to like Mamma's in Edinburgh (http://grassmarket.edinburghpizza.com/FMenu.aspx).

They've got cactus, chocolate, haggis, danish blue, baked beans and banana, among other disgusting suggestions....

Cat. said...

My (English) relatives put corn and tuna (and maybe onions and green peppers) on a homemade pizza while visiting several years ago, and couldn't understand why we Americans let them have the WHOLE PIZZA...we had peanut butter sandwiches! :-)

Howard said...

bill said:

>I would like to formally say that if any pizza has (sweet)corn on it, it is not American.

You may well like to say so formally, Bill, but if you care to search Google you will find a number of American pizza recipes which have corn as part of the topping! How about these:

Pizza with Arugula, Corn, and Bacon

Pesto Roasted Corn and Blue Cheese Pizza

Corn And Tomato Pizza

- all from American recipes! :-}

Jill said...

(American living in England here)

In one of my kitchen cupboards I have a bag of grain kernels that I intend to fry in oil until they explode into fluffy white things. The bag is labelled "Popcorn Maize", though I believe I've also seen bags of it labelled "Popcorn". In the USA it would be labelled "Popcorn" or occasionally "Popping Corn" if marketers wanted it to sound old-fashioned.

I was buying some things for a picnic with a friend who grew up in London, and he mentioned he had brought some sweetcorn. I asked, "In what form?" which he found interesting because he assumed that "sweetcorn" meant discrete units of corn, as opposed to "corn on the cob". As I recall, he decided that was not a hard and fast rule after some discussion.

Howard said...

Oh, and here is an excerpt from a review of a pizza place in "Downtown Silver Spring, Maryland":

Vegetable toppings include, in addition to the expected, artichoke hearts, avocado, carmelized onions, cremini mushrooms, hothouse cucumbers, roasted eggplant., roasted red peppers, shitake mushrooms, sun-dried tomato, spinach, corn and zucchini." [My emphases]

You presumably don't live in Silver Spring, Bill?! :-}

Anonymous said...

> My (English) relatives put corn and tuna

... Oooh! And a little additional googling reveals plenty of American recipes for pizze with tuna toppings!

Howard said...

fanf wrote:
>"Corn" when used unqualified by a Brit often means "wheat".

That seems to be right. The OED says:

Locally, the word, when not otherwise qualified, is often understood to denote that kind of cereal which is the leading crop of the district; hence in the greater part of England ‘corn’ is = wheat, in North Britain and Ireland = oats; in the U.S. the word, as short for Indian corn, is restricted to maize [...]

flashgordonnz said...

I've never heard of rules on what can go on top of a pizza (outside of Italy)! What a hoot: the US is part of the New World which normally embraces “fusion”. Which is just a farty word for “anything goes”. One of my fav pizzas is “One Reptile” consisting of crocodile marinated in coconut and sweet chilli with mango & red capsicum:

http://www.menus.co.nz/dogwellington/ORD_Dinner.pdf

During my time in the UK a womean told me of her visit to NZ. What made the biggest impression? It seemed the muffin with creamcheese and rhubarb centre. Shaking her head in wonderment, she muttered “Why would you do that?” To to which I replied “Why wouldn’t you?” I love the UK, and I love muffins, so come on Britain, there’s more to (muffin) life than just:
- blueberry
- blueberry low fat
- chocolate
- cheese

zhoen said...

Don't even ask about what pizza was like in Saudi Arabia. (There at the insistence of the U.S. Army, 1990.) Thick, dry, styrofoam-bread with orange coloring on one side.

All kinds of blasphemy has been hurled at perfectly good pizza. Gimme a white fromagio, from Pizzaria Regina in Boston, any day.

Howard said...

> Gimme a white fromagio, from Pizzaria Regina in Boston, any day.

Excellent wish! And does this generic white formaggio actually come from Italy? Or is a like AmE "Italian sausage", i.e., has very little to do with Italy. Or AmE "French Dressing", i.e., has little to do with France?

With regard to this debate, I wonder if a nation which has Kraft as its main cheese product has any right to be critical of the food taste of any other country?

Monterey Jack. Blimey! Streuth!! Blech!

James said...

I have a kind of convoluted history with pineapple pizza.

When I moved to N California, a friend said that he liked ham & pineapple pizza. I couldn't believe it, but I tried it, and it was pretty good.

Several years later, I was living in Chicago, and our weekly seminar would often go out to eat. Once we went to an Italian place, and very big shot senior colleague (and personal hero at the time) sitting next to me jokingly remarked that I should get the ham & pineapple pizza. I said, no thanks, I was in the mood for something else, but that it's not at all bad, and that next time we went there I would get it.

Next time we went there, I ordered it, and got eight annuli of pineapple, straight from the can, each one on perfectly centered on each slice.

He couldn't stop laughing.

James said...

ps I would like to formally say that if a pizza has marmite on it, it is not American.

Bingley said...

Lindsey Davis on the difference between US corn and UK corn.
Enjoy.

jp said...

Some years ago I was lucky enough to be treated to a rather swanky cookery course in Sicily, with a highly regarded and well-published Italian chef showing us the ropes. when it came to pizzas she was quite relaxed about ham, sweetcorn, pineapple and whatever other toppings we used on our offerings. However, she was most unforgiving when it came to any variation from the traditional thin crust base. No deep-pan or other Anglo-American interpretations allowed - thin meant thin.

bill said...

"Howard said...
You may well like to say so formally, Bill, but if you care to search Google you will find a number of American pizza recipes which have corn as part of the topping! How about these:
Pizza with Arugula, Corn, and Bacon
Pesto Roasted Corn and Blue Cheese Pizza
Corn And Tomato Pizza
- all from American recipes! :-}"

LOL...well remember, just because something is served in America does not make it American...

And actually I lived in Silver Spring for almost 4 years...;) There is a placve in Silver Spring that also serves Rarebit and Bangers and Mash...does that make it American? ;)

Ben Zimmer said...

For Americans of a certain age, the extent of their familiarity with maize is the old Mazola corn oil commercial in which a Native American woman says, "You call it corn, we call it maize."

flatlander said...

You do occasionally hear "sweet corn" in AmE to distinguish it from feed corn (known as "corn"), but I think that's only used in agricultural circles and in regions where (feed)corn is a huge part of the local economy and landscape.

Fnarf said...

Every British person I've ever discussed corn with couldn't understand why I would eat animal feed. In my experience, Brits just don't do corn on the cob. I'm glad to hear that's changing.

JohnB said...

When people first started talking about the ways BrE use specific words to describe corn, I was metaphorically nodding along in agreement. And then I sat and thought about it a bit more, and decided that I probably use 'corn' to mean both Corn on the Cob, and those individual little bits of corn you find on pizza. Oh, as well as the general 'any grain' thing

As for corn on an American pizza. In the UK corn is seen as an 'American' food - ie it was introduced to us from America. therefor when you put it on things it, the food has an American flavour. In the same way as pineapples come from Hawaii, therefore Hawaiian pizza has pineapple on it.

dearieme said...

The corn round here is mainly barley.

Anonymous said...

Shucks, folks:

British Sweetcorn

Bonus for identifying the retailer.
Apologies for the blurriness - didn't want to use the flash.

Stephen said...

I am surprised the guy who was in Saudi found the pizza so bad. What chain was it? I find them OK though the best pizza I've ever eaten is in a restaurant in Sri Lanka; the owner is Italian.

And another use for pineapples is in curries.

Ginger Yellow said...

"In the UK, one may be served (sweet)corn cold as a part of a salad (or not), and it is a popular pizza topping. "

Popular, but deeply wrong.

British corn on the cob may have improved a lot, but it's not a patch on what you'd find in any Illinois farmers' market.

johnb said...

Depends on where you buy your corn. If you buy corn from a supermarket you can't (fairly) compare it to anything you buy at a farmers' market :)

However, just down the road from here, some of the farmers are growing corn - and knowing this lot, it wouldn't surprise me if they have a pick your own session. They do on everything else ...

Now that would make a fairer comparison ...

Ginger Yellow said...

There's a pick your own place near my parents' house (in Surrey) and a farmers' market near my grandparents' house in Champaign-Urbana. The one in Champaign-Urbana market is much better, even more for tomatoes than for corn on the cob.

ktvoelker said...

In Wisconsin, "sweet corn" is a very common term to describe corn intended for human consumption, as opposed to "field corn" which is meant for other animals.

Also, although I've never seen corn on a pizza, it is served in a variety of salads and hotdishes.

Also, Hawaiian pizza is delicious. So is sauerkraut pizza.

Anonymous said...

If "shuck" is AmE, what do Brits do with oysters?

JR said...

I work in Korea, and most of the North Americans I know find the idea of sweetcorn (I'm English) on pizza bizarre. I'd rather Koreans not use it quite so often but I don't see it as a major no-no. What I do find strange is the sneering, proprietary attitude some Americans have about pizza. Just because pizza is popular in the US and of a good standard, doesn't make Americans the authority on what is or isn't allowed as a topping. Surely only the Italians (if anyone) have that right, and they often despair at how the rest of the world (inc. the US) prepares pizza. They also have no problem with tuna as a topping, or egg for that matter. Simply put, it's a fabulous culinary idea that countries adapt to suit their own tastes and environment. Anyone playing the 'purist' card better (actually) be from Italy.