“Sex is good. But not as good as fresh, sweet corn” –Garrison Keillor
My grandparents owned and lived on a corn farm. There were lots of other things grown there at different times, but while I was around, there were three main crops. Corn, grass hay, and tulips. The boys did all the haying while we picked blackberries, and the tulips happened while I was in school, so most of my farm memories have shucking, selling and flossing in them somewhere.
Grandpa staggered the planting and planted different varieties so we were selling corn out of our farm stand in Beaverton from mid-July through late August. 12 ears for $1. From 8-5 the OPEN sign was at the sidewalk. People would park in the front field and sort through the wire baskets full of ears to find just the right ones. Some like them small and sweet, some like them older and starchy. Most people would pull back the husk and inspect every single ear. You wouldn’t catch us complaining. There is nothing worse than getting the kind of corn you DON’T like.
Grandma and the grand-kids did the selling, and Grandpa picked. When we needed a break from the sun, we just put out a coffee can with a hole cut in the plastic lid for people to make their own change. And if the baskets were empty, just a few honks of the horn on the old Plymouth, and within minutes grandpa would emerge triumphant from the south field with a wheelbarrow of full baskets. Now that’s fresh corn!
If your family grows and sells sweet corn year after year, for 2 straight months, your whole entire life, you either grow to love corn – or you hate it. And my family loves it. We really can’t get enough of it. We wait for corn season with the impatience of small children. I have, on more than one occasion, picked immature ears and ate them raw in the field because I just could not stand waiting a minute longer! When we were little, Grandma would boil up a huge stockpot of fresh ears for dinner – maybe 10 and a time – and we would eat them with silent reverence, huddled over the kitchen sink. There just wasn’t any time for plates or talking. Though you might hear the occasional grunt of approval or give each other a mutual nod of understanding.
Please go to your local farmer’s market this week and buy some fresh corn for your family. Pick ears that are plump but not huge. The bottoms should be “scabbed” a bit but not brown. The silks should be crispy, and not at all slimy. If you have any doubt about the freshness, ask the grower when they were picked. If it wasn’t that morning (the night before at the latest), move on to the next stall. If you have to get it at a grocery store, peel back the husks a little and poke your thumbnail into one of the kernels. It should squirt (not drizzle) milky corn juice. The grocers don’t love it when you do this, but if it isn’t fresh, it won’t be good! Once you get it home, here’s what you do with it.
- Peel the husks back away from the ear a section at a time. If you leave some of them attached at the bottom, you can grab them and the stem like a handle and break it off clean to the bottom of the ear. If that doesn’t work, carefully cut off the stem.
- You don’t have to get too picky about the silks. If some of them stay on the ear, they will boil off. Cut the top off if there aren’t any kernels – it will help you fit more in the pot!
- Boil to your preferred done-ness. I do it for 5 minutes, my mom goes 10, grandma goes 20 minutes. It you like them more crispy, boil less. If you have braces and need to cut them off the cob, boil longer.
- After boiling – this is an important step – drain off the hot water and submerge the ears in COLD water for 5 minutes. This cools down the ear so you don’t burn your mouth and it keeps the kernels from shriveling up while you eat your first three ears. Warning: if you leave it in the cold water too long THE BUTTER WILL NOT MELT!!! Unthinkable.
- Butter is absolutely required for the full corn on the cob experience. You got to swirl it around on top of the butter stick until the thing is deformed the butter is just oozing over the surface of the corn. Don’t be afraid to get sloppy here. I usually recommend one stick of butter each so as to encourage double-dunking J A little sprinkle of salt is pretty good, too though not required. A little cayenne can give a nice kick as well.
- If you have more corn than you can eat at one meal, its better to cook it all up at once (the sooner the better) eat what you need, wrap the leftovers up in saran wrap or a ziploc and save them in the fridge until you’re ready. A minute or so in the micro (still loosely wrapped) and it will be as good as new. If you leave them uncooked, the sugars will convert to starch in a few days and it will taste like the corn you get at Chili’s. Not good and not right.
If you want to spice it up a little, try making more of a Mexican Elote with cheese and lime, or what I love to do is get a little Crema Mexicana (runny sour cream works, too – but not as well) and drizzle that on instead of butter. Then make a mixture of 2 parts salt, 1 part ground black pepper and 1 part chili powder. Generously sprinkle that on to of the crema. It is a really simple treatment, but it will blow. your. mind. So good!!