Written by David Shields
Sweet corn arose out of mutations that caused three strains of maize to pack kernels with dextrin, a sugar, rather than starch. On the Peru-Argentina border, Chullpi became the special grain of Kolla people. In Mexico, Maiz Dulce was the ancestor of the various sweet corn varieties there. In the Iroquois homeland in New York sometime about 1750 a strain of their white flint meal corn mutated form a sweet corn they named Papoon. In 1779 it was seized as a spoil of war by Lt. Richard Bagnal of Poor’s Brigade during the American Revolution.
It was sweet, rather soft, and wrinkled. The original strain had a red cob, though this was bred out of the North American sweets by 1800. Improved and cross-bred varieties began appearing in number during he 1850s. Old Colony and Stowell’s Evergreen dominated the gardens (sweet corn tended to be grown as a garden crop, not a field crop). Stowell’s was the favorite sweet corn for a century, although in 1890 Country Gentleman Shoepeg corn ran a strong second. Silver Queen, introduced in the 1950s, made the two earlier corns less popular.
Has Papoon corn disappeared? It is not among the seven Six Nations corns surviving the USDA grains collection. The Current Iroquois White Corn repatriation project is devoted to the white flour corn, not the sweet.
It seems implausible to me that it has disappeared completely. Both Chullpi and Mais Dulce — more ancient grains — survive in cultivation. Papoon apparently does not. While there are landraces belonging to the northeastern family of sweets recognized in the USDA GRIN, none of them fits with the descriptions found in the early accounts of the corn.