Heritage Preserving/Canning

Gathering Corn

Corn for fodder

When Pap was a boy, corn was the most important crop folks grew-I guess it still is for many farmers. Corn not only helped people survive through the winter-it was also necessary to ensure the farm animals survived the winter months too.

Here in the Southern Highlands of Appalachia, it was typical for folks to leave their corn in the field until it had been frosted on a few times and was completely dried out before the process of gathering was started. The corn in those days was different from the sweet corn most of us are familiar with today. It’s often called field corn.

Pap’s family and neighbors first step in the process was to top the corn. The tops of the corn stalk were cut out just above the ears of corn. As they gathered several tops and bundled them together they became tops of fodder for the animals. Pap said tops could be stored out in the field and didn’t have to be stored in a shed or barn. The topping portion took up to a week or more to complete-depending of course how much corn you had.

The second step-was to gather shocks of fodder. They would go back to each stalk and pull all the dried leaves from it-tying the leaves into shocks of fodder. Pap said these were usually kept inside the barn or corn crib. This process also took about a week or so depending on the amount of corn.

The last part-was actually gathering the ears of corn. Pap said folks in this area sometimes waited as long as December to gather the corn. Leaving the ears on the stalk longer ensured the corn was completely dried out. After gathering the corn, most folks left the shucks on until they needed to use the corn. Pap said leaving the shucks on helped deter mice and weevils from getting in your corn. Although, Pap does recall some folks hosting corn shucking parties where folks gathered to shuck corn and visit with one another.

Pap’s favorite part of gathering corn-was the camaraderie. Neighbors would join together to help one another with their corn. Pap said the women would always cook a big meal for the men to eat. Even though they were working in the field all day, Pap said corn gathering was still fun to him.

old bullard house

Recently Pap and I have been assisting a local historian document the oldest houses in our area. One day last, week Pap took us to the old Bollard place. I’ve drove past the old house my whole life and never realized it was there-tucked back in the woods.

We were amazed the house still had a few personal items in it-even though it is falling down-slowly being reclaimed by nature. While we were there Pap’s memories started bubbling up to the surface of his mind, and he recalled one corn gathering dinner from his childhood that took place in the old home.

After a day spent in the field the men were sitting down to eat. A team of horses with a wagon load of corn was standing by a couple of sheds up above the house. There was also a team of steer hitched to a wagon full of corn. The steer had real long curved horns. Pap said something spooked the steer and they took off on their own, running into the horses. One of the horses was cut by a steer horn. The horn sliced the horse’s stomach open and part of it’s insides came out. Pap said he’d never forget his Grandpa washed the horse’s guts off with soapy water and tucked them back inside it’s stomach and sewed the wound up with a piece of sea grass string. The horse lived.

Nature has laid such a claim to the old place-it’s hard to envision the woods being open enough for wagons to travel through-hard to imagine folks gathering to eat in the old house. But the wagons, the corn, the food, and the sea grass are still there locked in Pap’s memories.

So ever been to a corn gathering? Did your parents or grandparents use corn for fodder?


You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Keith Jones
    November 19, 2009 at 5:27 am

    Hey, I’ve actually cut tops and pulled fodder, and I don’t think I’m ancient! (58 next April)
    My aunt Ethel and Aunt Avery lived on my great-granddad’s old farm in Choestoe, GA south of Blairsville. They grew field corn for feed for their animals, too.
    The only difference between what you described and our method was that we would gather the leaves off the stalks at the same time we cut the tops above the highest ear of corn. Two or three tops and the leaves from those same stalks made up a bundle of fodder.
    I remember Aunt Avery helping me get the hang of tying the bundles together tightly with one of the leaves from a cornstalk. (No store-boughten string for us! The animals could eat the whole bundle.)
    Aunt Avery also had a wooden implement, a kind of thin paddle shaped like a short machete, which she used to go down the row knocking off the leaves from the cornstalks. She had a technique of catching the leaves (several) with one hand, knocking them loose with the tool, and she’d have enough tops and leaves for a bundle “before you could say Jack Robinson.” Everyone agreed she was the fastest “hand” in the valley for cutting tops and fodder.
    And that field corn, while not as sweet as sweet corn, was still good eating if you gathered it for roastin’ ears, just as it began to mature, and before it fully filled out and began to dry.

  • Reply
    Carolyn A.
    November 12, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    Grandpop always traded hams and bacon for leftover corn from the grocer to feed his hogs. I’ve seen corn growing in fields when we travel and only saw corn shocks when Sister S used them in her Halloween displays when we went to the bonfires she held on the farm in Westminister, MD. I’ve been away from the country too long I fear. 🙂 xxoo

  • Reply
    laoi gaul-williams
    November 5, 2009 at 4:41 am

    lovely! how exciting to go into the old house and explore.
    in my family tree i have farmers/farm labourers here on the outskirts of the new forest going back many hundreds of years and i always wonder about their lives, how hard things were and how much joy they had in their lives.i know some left their village in the mid 1800’s for canada when there was poor harvests and famine here.
    by the way…are those your boots in the photo? they are amazing!

  • Reply
    November 4, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    We rarely had any large fields around here in my childhood. I know there were some in earlier days on hillsides and such. But, corn is a big part of our diet here. There are even rumors of families having to survive strictly on corn.
    I love old houses too. Most of our married life John and I have lived in homes built in 1900 including the cabin we live in now. I would have loved to explore that house with ya’ll.

  • Reply
    November 4, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    Love the story, love the pictures! I am married to an Iowan and of course they claim supremacy over all things corn. But we were visiting my home in Alabama and my sister commented that she didn’t care for the corn she had eaten in the Midwest, “You know, it was really field corn, not like the good Silver Queen we grow and eat here.” For the first time ever, my husband was speechless! HA HA!
    I love to explore old houses too. Those pictures remind me of the old deserted house in the middle of the wilderness where my father was born at the Narrows in Tennessee. We got to see it a few years ago. The Narrows is where Montgomery Bell used dynamite to tunnel through rock and change the course of the Harpeth River. Wild Times! The river runs down the hill, abruptly shifts to the right (Mr. Bell’s dynamite hole), careens through the rock and falls into the water below in a big rush. It is unbelievable and well worth a trip if anyone is in the area.

  • Reply
    November 4, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    Wow, I have been wondering why corn is left in the fields so long on my journeys, and never knew the story…thanks for sharing, and how amazing that the house still has things left strewn about…great way to weave a story if you wanted…

  • Reply
    Mary Libby
    November 4, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    I remember helping my Grandfather shuck corn and gather fodder also he had a big barrel that he put pickle corn in, in the winter I can remember breaking the ice to get the ears of corn, they were sooo good I can taste it now just thinking about it.
    Thanks Tipper for taking me back so many years ago.
    Mary Libby

  • Reply
    November 4, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    Beautiful post about your Pap’s memories and I loved the photos of the old house.
    I have always loved looking at those types of old houses and either listening to the stories about them or making up my own stories in my head.

  • Reply
    petra michelle
    November 4, 2009 at 11:33 am

    The horse lived?! Now that was miraculous, Tipper! Great story!
    It must be so very exciting to be a part of the documentation of your neighborhood’s old homes!
    Wonderful post, Tipper! :))

  • Reply
    November 4, 2009 at 11:19 am

    I live amongst many mennonite farmers. Most of our corn remains in the fields for animal feed and silage.
    I love the old place! The photo with the 3 windows really caught my attention!
    Wonderful history.

  • Reply
    November 4, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Enjoyed your story. I love old houses, too. I look at them and just imagine the history within their walls.

  • Reply
    November 4, 2009 at 10:21 am

    This was great! I love hearing about everyone getting together to work. Especially how, even though it is hard rough work it was seen as fun and a good memory. It is how we raised our girls, to see that work can be as entertaining and fulfilling as anything else. That work need not be drudgery. Thanks for such a great story.

  • Reply
    November 4, 2009 at 8:54 am

    Great story! My uncle and cousins still keep field corn for the critters. They have big fields full of the stuff that the plant each spring. We helped some but my memories weren’t always much fun. I suppose we didn’t get a good enough meal afterwards!

  • Reply
    Glenda Beall
    November 3, 2009 at 8:15 pm

    Tipper, you triggered my memory with this corn story. We grew corn also on our farm in SW GA, and I have some stories to tell about that. I was taught by my brothers to drive the tractor when I was about five or six years old. The tractor pulled the wagon while the boys and my daddy pulled the corn. It was hot work, the corn was tall and blocked any breeze, but I felt important so I hung in there. My brothers were quite respectful to me because if they complained about my driving, I’d put the Farmall in neutral, jump down and go home. Daddy laughed when I walked off the job. He never made me work. I had to be coerced into it by the four brothers.

  • Reply
    November 3, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    We still harvest corn pretty much the same way. These days we just have a few animals and ourselves to feed so it really isn’t too much work and we have the time. Corn is a wonderful crop – you don’t need big machinery to harvest it – you just need enough land to keep moving it around.

  • Reply
    November 3, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    I too, did my share of gathering corn in NE Arkansas, mostly for the animals. Dry, dusty and sharp, but it had to be gathered, and we followed a wagon much like the one in the picture. It wasn’t very big, but it was pulled by a tractor. The drier the corn stalk, the easier it was to break off. After it was stored in the corn crib, my brother and I had the job of shelling it every afternoon. Fortunately, we had a hand cranked sheller.

  • Reply
    Fishing Guy
    November 3, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    Tipper: I was a city boy so never experienced anything with the corn. I really did love the story.

  • Reply
    Ed Mahaffey
    November 3, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    I remember going to the fields to harvest corn with my dad and grandfather when I was younger than your girls. As you described, the tradition on our farm was to leave corn in the field until cold weather arrived.
    It was a task that kids could do right along side the adults. One detail that I recall vividly is that we sometimes worked at this task without gloves; the combination of cold weather and abrasive corn shucks could challenge a young boy’s desire to work with “the grown-ups”.

  • Reply
    November 3, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    Here in CT. we grow a lot of corn, both for the cows and for us.
    I do love to here about history and those pictures want to make me think that I was born a century to late.

  • Reply
    November 3, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    My grandparents owned a large multiacre farm up here in northern Indiana. My dad was born to them when they were in their 40’s in 1940. Back then all the local farmers would help each other with the harvest and the women would have big threshers meals. The corn crop was mainly grown for feed for the animals or Dad said that some of it went to big companies that made vegetable mixes with it. My grandparents grew corn, wheat and oats. My father helped out in the fields as he grew up. My grandma made old fashioned meals that were just out of this world. Unfortunately I never met my grandpa since he died before I was born and my Grandma died at the age of 80 back in 1982. She would 109 if she were still with us today!
    Thank you for such a wonderful story!

  • Reply
    Charles Fletcher
    November 3, 2009 at 11:24 am

    I Co-wrote a simular story about corn shuckin that was published in the Ashville NC paper October 25, 2009. The author of the article was Edie Burnett of Canton NC. I have two books published of simular stories that I remember from my child hood in the mountains of western North Carolina.
    Charles Fletcher
    @[email protected]

  • Reply
    November 3, 2009 at 11:15 am

    Wow! I’m so glad you are getting Pap’s memories down! What a great experience to go into that old house.

  • Reply
    November 3, 2009 at 11:10 am

    I love hearing stories about the old days, and I especially love seeing the old personal items that were left behind.

  • Leave a Reply