In praise of sweet corn
‘Tis the season. We’ve had fresh sweet corn around here for weeks now, but I’m in Massachusetts, and that corn is from Georgia, which isn’t to say it isn’t good, simply that it isn’t local.
Locally-grown produce is a big part of Sweet Salt Air, and though corn isn’t a major player in the book, I want to honor it here. I’m lucky enough, both at home and at the lake, I have access to farms that grow corn. In New Hampshire, that would be Moulton Farm. Since it’s on the main drag, corn fields are visible from the street. That’s an education in and of itself. The corn is planted in waves to effect a staggered harvest, meaning that we watch one field after the other sprout, grow, hit its peak and yield corn, then die off and be plowed down. In fall, there’s even a corn maze of what I assume is a special variety of corn that grows higher than the others.
But I’m jumping the season. Back to summer.
You don’t have to be a devout locavore to appreciate driving past a field of corn, turning into the farm stand, and buying ears that were growing on a stalk hours before. Just as my supermarket does now, the New Hampshire stand provides a barrel beside the corn bin for husks. I work there with others like me, shucking the corn so that I can take it home ready to cook.
How do you cook sweet corn? When I was a kid, we boiled it. I had dinner at a friend’s house last week, and she did that. I have to say, it was delicious – but then, anything someone else makes for me, even a cup of tea, is always delicious simply because of the thought involved.
Me? I don’t boil my corn. That’s one more big pot that you have to wash afterward, and I’m as lazy a cook as you’ll find. No, I either butter and salt each ear, wrap it in foil, and grill it along with chicken, steak, or shrimp, or I microwave it.
How do you do it? Do you think there’s a difference in taste?
Which leads us to how to eat sweet corn.
The most obvious way is on the cob. You can stick those little handles into the ends, roll the corn in butter, sprinkle a little salt on top, and munch at it, round and round, one end to the other. We don’t usually bother with handles. On occasion, we don’t even bother with the butter or salt. Good fresh sweet corn is wonderful all on its own.
And that leads to other ways to eat it. For instance, we love it as part of a salad. I always buy more ears than I’ll need so that I have an extra two or three. Let the corn cool, cut off the kernels by standing the cob up on a plate and shaving close to the cob with a sharp knife, and you have an amazing garnish for salad the next day or the day after that.
What about omelets? I heat my skillet over medium-high heat, add the corn and let it sit until it starts to lightly brown, then add eggbeaters and grated cheese, and scramble it all together. The corn adds crunch, sweetness, and just enough starch to eliminate the need for toast. Not that a piece of thick, grainy, whole wheat bread isn’t always welcome …
If there’s still corn left over, I eat those kernels with whatever I‘m having for lunch on a given work day.
I haven’t mentioned corn chowder, which I do love and occasionally make with bits of lobster, because it requires more steps than I’m usually willing to take in summer. Heck, it requires more steps than I’m usually willing to take any time of year, especially since we have restaurants nearby that do amazingly good lobster-and-corn chowders. Once in a while, though, I make the effort. Using that freshly picked sweet corn? It’s totally worth it.
Other ideas here? If you were to rhapsodize over sweet corn, what different verses would you write?