Past Times

In 1951, Chatham County corn shucking took many hands

Corn shuckings were a full family affair, with the women providing a substantial meal for the workers.
Corn shuckings were a full family affair, with the women providing a substantial meal for the workers. U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information

Harvest in rural North Carolina was a full community event, even as late as 1951, when writer Jim Parker described a local corn shucking.

The mechanization of Chatham County farms may have taken some of the work out of farming, but there is still plenty of good old time fun left in a Chatham County corn shucking.

One of the first shuckings to be held this year was held recently at the home of London Jordan of Route 1, Siler City. It was a fine night for cornshucking. It was cool enough to make a coat feel comfortable and to make a little work feel good. True, there wasn’t any moon, but no one seemed to mind that. … And London had rigged electric lights near the two huge piles of corn, so the absence of the moon didn’t interfere with the shucking operations either.

A corn shucking is a community affair. London Jordan started preparing for his early last week by inviting all his friends and neighbors. Later on, he knew, he would be invited to shuckings at their homes and so would return the labor given by the folks who came to help him shuck his crop of fine hybrid corn.

Jordan invited about 75 people to attend the shucking and 71 came. They found two long piles of corn in the barn yard, piles that were almost waist high and some 50 or 60 feet long. The piles represented the harvest from four acres of land planted in hybrid yellow corn, a heavy producer which has always grown out over 100 bushels to the acre for Jordan in the past.

While Jordan had to move his corn and arrange lighting for the shucking, Mrs. Jordan really had the hardest job back in the house. It was her task to arrange supper for the shuckers. And since she knew from past experience just how tired and hungry they would be, she started early Thursday morning and made some 28 pies and five cakes. Friday she killed, cleaned and fried 15 chickens and made large platters full of sandwiches, and at the last minute prepared five gallons of steaming hot coffee. All this food, plus pickles, cookies, jellies, jam, preserves and every other kind of extra, was carried out to the front yard about half way during the shucking.

The table was made of planks placed on sawhorses, and when all the food was placed on it it was literally covered up.

While Mrs. Jordan and a crew of neighborhood women were fixing supper, the crowd out in the yard had been steadily working away at the corn pile. A shucker would grab an ear of corn with his right hand, twist off the husk with a snap of his wrist and fling the shucked ear of yellow corn straight out in front of him, dropping the husks behind. Then with a quick swoop he would bend and pick up another ear and start the process over again. Under the experienced hands of the shuckers the pile of shucked corn grew rapidly, so rapidly in fact that Jordan estimated the entire shucking would be over in some three hours of actual labor.

Jordan is known in his neighborhood as a good farmer. He has always raised hybrid corn since it first became available and has been a member of the 100 Bushel Club for several years. He is an old hand at corn shuckings and declared they are the finest fun in the world. And his friends and neighbors agree with him, too. It is not only a fine method of getting the corn shucked, but lots of fun and a fine excuse for a get-together. Most of the folks who came brought their families. The younger girls and the men and boys help with the shucking, and the women help Mrs. Jordan in the house. Everyone works and everyone has a good time.

Jordan likes his hybrid corn, but he did say that he hadn’t found a red ear among it for the past three years. The youngsters like to find red ears because according to an old custom you get to kiss your girl every time you find one. But Friday night there wasn’t any time for kissing the girls. Everyone was too busy shucking corn and eating Mrs. Jordan’s fine food to worry about the girls. There was time enough for that after the shucking was over.

The sewing machine has about ended the quilting bees. No one has barn raisings any more, and candy pullings have also become a thing of the past. But in Chatham they still have corn shuckings, and everyone still has a good time. The N&O Nov. 4, 1951

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times,

Leonard: 919-829-4866