Maize and polenta

...Columbus' discovery

Besides the disputes, the real fact is that Columbus' discovery had, first of all, the merit of making the most of the New World potential, and starting the irreversible economy of trades.

Among the vegetable edible products, the dessicated and then grinded Mahyz seed, native to the area between Mexico and Peru, turned out to be better than the many existing seed in the Old World, which were at the root of our daily diet, especially in Northern Italy, later called also Polentonia (the "polenta land"), where this new seed soon became the popular synonim of the diet.

To say the truth, polentas, in a wider sense, have a non-dated history and the basic pocedure to cook it is substantially the same: you cook grinded seeds in the water. And the origin of the name must be fiound in the latin "pulvis", dust, that eventually changed into "polenta". Nevertheless, "polenta", in all its variations, is common heritage of every civilizations, as first and archaic maintenance.

So for several centuries polenta had been made with millet, barley, or saracen corn, the latter is the famous black polenta, very tasty and nourishing, described by Manzoni too, and atill famous in Valtellina.

The new seed soon supplanted the other seeds, especially in Veneto, which can be now considered the Italian adopted homeland of maize.

The relatively good resistance of the plant to the weather conditions made it particularly appreciated upon the hills and in the area of Belluno, where seeds were imported by the noble Odorico Piloni in 1590 and the cultivation spreaded in the next years thanks to Benedetto Miari, who cultivated it in his fields.

Enthusiasm for the new seed, very effective in an integrated diet, did not arouse any suspicion of relationship with a terrible disease caused by the lack of D vitamin, and very widespread among the poors who had nothing to eat but polenta. On the other hand, nobody knew the precautions the American Indios had taken for centuries, i.e. they used water very rich in limestone to cook their tortillas.

In this half millennium, Veneto farmers' attachment to the maize has become proverbial because of the identification of maize as a primary resource: corn, or better, polenta became synonim of life, and family support.

In parallel to this concept of need, polenta had inspired writers and poets too, with images and feelings close to friendship, solidarity, and family values.


Warm salted water. As soon as it boils, pour maize flour mixing in order to avoid lumps. Go on mixing continually, until polenta will be dense enough. Then cook for about forty minutes mixing often. If the potis of optimum quality, that is to say a thick copper pot, you will see the polenta separating from the metal.

Apart from the traditional mountain polenta, there are more recipes which present a softer polenta with the add of other ingredients, all coming from the traditional products of the earth, such as milk, butter, beans, cheese, wine, honey and many other ingredients.

Adapted from GianLuigi Secco