Corn Cobs- What are They Good for?

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Guest post by Tim Torkildson

It’s that time of year again. People are boiling and grilling sweet corn; eating so much of this seasonal delight, it practically comes out their ears! After a family cook out it’s not unusual to have a trash bag full of nothing but corn cobs, to be tossed out or possibly used in mulching. After all, what else is there to do with corn cobs?

You’d be surprised!

Our pioneer forebears knew better than to just throw the corn cobs away. Remember the corn cob pipe, the Missouri Meerschaum?

And today there are whole industries based on corn stover (which is what the rest of the corn plant, after the kernels are removed, is called). In Iowa and other states that grow large amounts of corn, the stover is ground up for livestock feed or used as bedding for the animals. Corn cobs also produce an industrial chemical called furfural, which is used in perfume. Coarsely ground, it can be used to sand blast buildings to clean them off.

But what can YOU do with YOUR bag of corn cobs, besides take it to the landfill? No need to make corn cob pipes; you can do many interesting things with them once they are dried out in the sun for a day or two.

  • · If you have a fireplace or wood burning stove, save those cobs as kindling, or, if you have enough of them, as fuel. They start burning quickly and are nearly smokeless.
  • · Some of your pets will enjoy a corn cob. Rodents, such as gerbils and white rats, like to gnaw on them, like a dog with a bone. Parakeets also enjoy keeping their beaks sharp by picking at a corn cob.
  • · Domestic animals, such as chickens, also love to peck every last bit of nutrition out of corn cobs.
  • · Try making pioneer corn cob dolls. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote lovingly in her books about the corn cob dolls the girls cherished in place of any store-bought dolls. The Nebraska History Museum has a large collection of corn cob dolls, so if you’d like to try it, go to their website at for examples and instructions.
  • · Cobs that still have some of the kernels left on them can be kept in a dry place until winter, and then set out for the birds and squirrels to feast on. Try tying a corn cob with a piece of stout string and then hanging it from a tree branch; you’ll be highly entertained at the acrobatics the squirrels and birds go through to get at the kernels!
  • · Slice them and sprinkle with aromatic oils; you’ll have a handsome potpourri for autumn.
  • · Stick a long nail through each end and use as a paint roller for an interesting design on your walls and ceiling.
  • · Last, but not least, you can make corn cob jelly!

That’s right, you can boil down corn cobs to make a delicious preserve. In honor of the state that produces the most corn, it is often called Iowa jelly. Here’s how it’s done:

Ingredients – 12 corn cobs, 2 quarts water, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 packet powdered pectin, and sugar to taste. Don’t worry about adding any food coloring; your corn cob jelly will come out a beautiful, light amber.

Add the cobs, whole or cut, to the water when it reaches a rolling boil. Boil uncovered for 30 minutes. Strain the corn cob broth through cheese cloth (although most people in Iowa prefer to leave the disconnected kernels in the jelly; it’s up to you). Add the lemon juice and pectin. Boil the strained broth again for a good 5 minutes, adding about 2 cups of sugar and making sure it is totally dissolved. Remove from heat and ladle into hot jelly jars. Adjust lids and bands. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

You won’t believe how good this Iowa jelly tastes on corn muffins! And it makes a wonderful accompaniment for poultry instead of cranberries. Bring it out at Thanksgiving or give it away as a Holiday gift.

Bet you never look at corn cobs the same way again!


About the author:

Tim Torkildson worked in radio in Iowa, where he learned all about corn. Today he is a free-lance blogger, with an interest in agriculture and corn selection.

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