Written by Diane E. Robertson & Photographed by Christiane Francin
Created and styled by Lucinda Snyder
Corn is probably the most important of the three. The story of corn’s domestication is lost in prehistory, but well before the earliest European explorers reached the Americas, natives of Central and South America ate domesticated varieties of corn. Trade networks spread corn northward and eastward, eventually all the way to New England. By the time the Pilgrims arrived, corn was a well-established food crop among the natives they encountered.
Beans followed corn. When the tribes that grew corn discovered that a certain wild legume eaten together with their corn offered a better food than corn alone, a variety of cultural groups began to develop different beans from the same ancestral plant. Kidney, pinto, navy, and green beans are all varieties of the same species. When the Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth, succotash and baked beans were already regional specialties.
The Native Americans’ third contribution, squash, was also among the early domestications. The wild plant was probably first gathered for its edible seeds until someone noticed that the flesh had potential too. The seeds, when planted, sometimes produced mutants that were plumper and sweeter-tasting than the wild squashes. From that discovery came all of our common squashes, including the pumpkins enjoyed by the Pilgrims.
Although most people today fill their cornucopias with things other than corn, beans and squash, it’s noteworthy that meaningful holiday traditions begun more than 400 years ago and continue today.
How to create your own
- 3 boxes puff pastry, thawed
- 1 box tin foil
- 2 egg whites
- 1/2 cup water
- Make a form out of foil, scrunching it into a cornucopia shape. Try to make it about 12 inches long. It can be as thick as you like. The larger the shape, the more goodies you will be able to place inside.
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Roll out pastry and cut it into 1” strips.
- Wrap 2 complete sheets of pastry around the foil as a base. Begin wrapping the strips of pastry around the base form, overlapping each one. Be sure to firmly press the strips to the base,
and to each other. It is very important that the pieces stick together or they will puff open and pop apart as it is baking.
- Cut out decorative leaves from the remaining pastry dough and firmly press on top of the cornucopia.
- Whisk together the egg whites and water. Brush the entire piece with the egg wash.
- Bake until golden brown. Time will vary with oven and size of form.
- Once it has cooled, cut the foil out of the front half. Leave the foil in the back for stability.
After baking, it will last in the refrigerator for weeks. When ready to use, place on a decorative tray and fill your cornucopia with colorful fruit, nuts, candies, bread, or dried decorative pieces.
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