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In praise of the lowly corn cob

Corn cobs are great for animal bedding,
heating homes, and don’t forget jelly

By D.L. Flyger

Freeman, South Dakota

A few days back I stopped by one of the neighbor’s to see how their chickens were laying. They had just come back from town and were unloading a couple of bales of woodshavings from their pickup. I asked them what they wanted the shavings for and they said they used them in their chicken house for bedding.

I have never used shavings, and I’m sure they make very fine bedding but I use something that is much more economical and I think is probably better for the soil when you’re done. What we have used and most people around here have used for bedding in the poultry house is cobs.

I got to thinking that many COUNTRYSIDERS maybe are not aware of the value of corn cobs.

Twenty or 30 years ago when I was a boy there were plenty of corn cobs in the country as picking corn in the ear was standard then as combines had not really caught on for harvesting corn. We used whole cobs for filling in mud holes in the feed lots, ground cobs for bedding in the chicken houses, and good dry cobs made excellent kindling for use in the stove or furnace.

Many a wood cookstove has been heated with cobs. Fortunate was the child who only had to haul in cobs from the cob house where they had been stored after being shelled with a corn sheller instead of having to pick them up in the hog lot after the hogs had eaten the corn off the ear. The cobs from the hog lot did seem to burn longer but I suspect it was the addition of the manure that accounted for this.

As combines replaced picking corn, cobs became harder to find. I made many trips with my uncle to Omaha, Nebraska, where he used to haul semi loads of cobs to the Quaker Oats Chemical plant. Don’t worry, they don’t put the cobs in your oatmeal, I was told when I was there as a kid.

I think homesteaders who are raising a little corn would be wise to pick their corn in the ear. It saves drying the corn for storage as when the corn is cribbed, nature dries the corn for you and you have the added benefit of using the cob which otherwise would have been left in the field.

I like to feed ear corn to my cows. The cows don’t leave you with the bare cob like hogs or sheep do but the cob is excellent roughage or filler in cattle feed.

We are living in a day and age where there seems to be a resurgence in picking corn in the ear. High energy costs to dry the corn I believe accounts for it.

One of my earliest and fondest memories was of watching the cribs being filled in the fall of the year and then being around when the neighbor men came to help shell corn. My grandmother would bring lunch out to the shellers. There were always cookies, cake, sandwiches, and hot coffee from her five-gallon coffee pot. Lunch was served at 9:00 in the morning and at about 3:30 in the afternoon. The noon meal is dinner and consisted of a full meal.

As I got older, I always enjoyed helping shovel corn into the sheller. The added highlight of the day was the fun the younger members of the crew had killing the rats and mice that ran out of the corn pile. (I’m sure this will make some poor animal rights activist squirm but I assure you, if you ever had a rat or mouse run up your overall or pant leg, you would turn into a rat killer too.)

When the shelling was done, we baled the husks for bedding the cows or hogs and the cobs were either sold, stored away for use at a later date, or they were ground with the hammermill for bedding.

If you do not pick your own corn, you may be able to find some person in your neighborhood who still does. Seed corn companies are often good sources of cobs. Another source would be if you could pick up the corn that is left in a field after it has been harvested. Many farmers would be happy to let you have this corn free for the picking so they won’t have to contend with the volunteer corn next year. With a good old one-hole corn sheller you could provide yourself with some family entertainment, some good feed grain and some useful cobs. One year I picked up over $800 worth of corn!

We currently have a very good neighbor who each year supplies us with a wagon load of ground cobs for use in the chicken house and another wagon or two of plain cobs that we use in the kitchen stove.

Whether you use the cobs in the stove, grind them up for bedding or use them as cattle feed, I think it is a good idea for the environment to make use of that cob.

Some people I know even use good clean cobs to burn to provide the smoke when smoking meat or fish. Personally I prefer good ash or apple wood but you might try cobs and see how you like it.

Finally, I must include my great aunt’s use of the lowly cob and it is my favorite. She uses them to make jelly. When I married my wife I found my mother-in-law had the same use for them. A lovely red colored jelly that tastes very much like apple jelly can be made from nice clean red cobs. A darker colored jelly can be made with the purple cobs from certain varieties of flint corn. Here is how they do it:

Corn Cob Jelly

Rinse a dozen and a half long red corn cobs.

Place these cobs in a kettle and cover with 12 to 14 cups of water. Boil slowly for 1/2 hour. Strain; for every three cups of this juice use one package of powdered pectin.

Bring juice and pectin to a hard boil for one minute. Add 3 cups sugar for every 3 cups juice. Boil hard for a minute or until it sticks between the tines of a dinner fork. Pour into hot, sterilized jars and seal.

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COUNTRYSIDE is the truly original country magazine (established 1917) serving that branch of the Voluntary Simplicity movement seeking greater self-reliance (homesteading), with emphasis on home food production. This includes gardening, small-scale livestock, cooking, food preservation, resource conservation, recycling, frugality, money management, alternative energy, old-time skills, home business, and
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COUNTRYSIDE features reader-written personal experiences and photos straight out of family albums, making each issue just like a long letter from friends who are living the good life, beyond the sidewalks.

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  — J. Sterling