From the Farm: Lend me your ears for lesson on sweet corn
BY ABRA BERENS Local columnist
So far this summer I have eaten more corn on the cob than in any summer previous. I can’t really tell you why. I have not heard from growers that this has been the perfect growing season for corn or that the corn is for some reason creamier or richer than in previous summers.
Nonetheless it keeps showing up, coated in a shiny slick of butter and adorned with crispy salt, meal in and meal out.
Sweet corn is characteristically the summer evening meal darling — it shows best this time of year, right around Labor Day. The corn of the Fourth of July picnic is an import — the age-old Midwestern adage “knee high by the Fourth of July” is true and indicates that the ears won’t be ready for some time.
Suddenly, between festivals, beach days, visits and vacations, a couple months fly by, children return to school, and local corn is at its prime. It's also the exact time when I’m so tired of picking corn shells out of my teeth that I’m ready to turn away from corn to the early fall squashes. Then I remember what a farmer told me several years back, when I was buying the first cobs to grace her table in early August. She said, “Wait till September. That’s when the getting is good.”
I turn to the knife to satisfy both desires, avoiding flossing while still getting to taste corn at its finest. Both of the recipes below part the kernel and the cob.
The best way to do this is to shuck the husk and silk from the cob but leave the stem intact to use as a handle. Find a large bowl, sheet tray or roasting pan and place the tip of the cob in the receptacle. Holding the stem handle cut with a sharp knife down the cob removing the kernels into the bowl. A larger bowl or tray will keep the kernels from flying all over the kitchen. The cobs can either be discarded or steeped in milk or water to make a base for corn soup, pudding, or pasta sauce.
The hallmarks for shoppers looking for a good ear are compact layers of husk that are still bright green and not dried out; the silks should be attached and appear fresh close to the cob; and the ear should be heavy in the hand. A hole at either end of the ear is a sure sign of corn worm. Corn worms, like tomato hornworms, are very gross, but they do not mean the corn is bad. At worst they will have eaten a few kernels, but the flip side is it probably means the corn wasn’t sprayed with insecticide. Similarly, if you peel back the husk and find several kernels undeveloped this is simply a sign of poor pollination and — while disappointing — doesn’t indicate anything else wrong with the rest of the ear.
This is also the time of year when I freeze as much corn as possible for the winter months. After cutting from the cob, lay the kernels out on sheet trays and freeze. When well frozen, then transfer to a freezer bag to use again in the winter. This will keep your corn from freezing as a lump, allows you to use as much as you need without thawing a whole bag.
Late summer and early fall is the best time for sweet corn, fresh or frozen, so don’t miss it or rush to the novelty of squash.