The first local sweet corn of the season heralds a new dining trend at our house -- as much fresh corn as you can eat, as many times a week as possible.
Like eating local tomatoes, there is just no comparison between locally grown sweet corn and corn available out-of-season. Our limited garden space takes corn off the "grow-our-own" list, so instead we spend the season searching for the best places to buy our sweet corn.
There was always lots of corn growing at my grandparents’ farm in Dummerston (Silver Queen was a favorite variety for the farm’s dinner table), and I remember walking the long rows of rustling leaves looking for ears mature enough to pick. Often this was the only bit of shade available out in the field, so sometimes checking for corn well before suppertime became an excuse to cool off. With a twist and a downward pull, we would yank the ears from the stalk and lug them back to the house where we would husk them on the back step of the breezeway, the cool stone steps welcome to sit on.
Having seemingly unlimited ears of corn to choose from at grandma and grandpa’s dinner table certainly spoiled me. I love a huge pot of steaming corn on the table, allowing me to take my pick after critically looking at each ear, while trying not to be rude and sorting through the whole pile.
I tend to choose those ears that have smaller, shiny kernels, hoping that somehow this will guarantee me the
When really fresh, the sugars in the corn haven’t yet had time to begin converting into starch, a process that begins happening immediately after the corn has been picked. The more recently picked the better, resulting in sweet kernels that practically burst from the cob.
It’s well worth it to make it a habit to check when the corn you are about to buy was picked. And if no one is available who seems to know, pick up a few ears and take a look at them -- does the inner silk look really wilted? Are the inner layers of husk dry? Does it smell sweet and fresh or not really like anything? And if it’s solidly cold to the touch, it may have spent the night in a walk-in cooler, so it’s definitely worth asking.
As I mentioned, our family takes this local corn season as an opportunity to eat as much sweet corn as possible, usually starting in the form of steamed corn-on-the cob, with any leftovers sliced into salads or quesadillas, or sprinkled on nachos along with the cheese just before melting. Anything left over after that gets packed into small bags in the freezer for use in cold weather soups and cornbreads. Knowing the season is so fleeting, we certainly try and make the most of it.
Next week our family is going camping, and I think that it’s time the girls get to experience sweet corn in a different way. I remember camping as a kid with my parents, brother, cousins and some aunts and uncles on Prospect, a lovely piece of land near my grandparents’. I was probably about 8, and the idea of camping out and making dinner over a campfire in the woods was so exciting.
After constructing a tent out of a tarp and some plastic, we lit a fire, and dinner was made. I have no idea what else we ate, but I will never forget my amazement when my aunt pulled ears of corn wrapped in aluminum foil out of the coals, charred black from the heat and flames. Inside, after carefully pulling back both the foil and the husk, was an ear of corn, a bit blackened in spots, but delicious nonetheless. I still remember the smell of that corn and the challenges of revealing it and waiting for it to cool.
Simple to prepare, delicious to eat, I hope that the experience and flavor of the corn will serve to remind them of smoky clothing, starry skies and staggering out of a tent into the early morning.
First, we will soak the corn, in the husks, for 30 to 60 minutes, a good thing to do while we wait for the fire to get hot. Some people swear by salting this soaking water, but I never have. Technically, by leaving the husks on we will be steaming the corn, but the fire will impart a smokiness and the corn’s texture will be a bit chewier. I’d like to roast our corn using two methods, and see which one we prefer -- wrapping the ears in foil and putting them in the coals as I remember, as well as putting the soaked ears on the grill grate and turning them. It would also be interesting to try grilling a couple of ears on the grate without husks (true roasting) and see how those turn out.
Depending upon how hot we manage to get our fire, roasting the corn will take 20 to 25 minutes, with much turning and poking of the ears as they cook. Then the biggest challenge will be to remove the ears from the husks without burning fingers or singeing knuckles and waiting for them to cool a bit before eating them.
But perhaps I’ve gotten ahead of myself -- more likely the biggest challenge will be finding the freshest sweet corn somewhere near our campground in an unfamiliar area. That and getting a decent night sleep in the tent!
Enjoy our sweet corn now! And if you have a favorite farm stand that sells consistently good corn, continue to support them and feel free to let me know -- it’s always good to have a couple tried-and-true corn purveyors to turn to!
Julie Potter is a wife, mother of two, avid gardener and passionate cook who believes good food doesn’t have to be complicated. Share your thoughts with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.