Mark Twain said that the only way to eat sweet corn is to take your caldron and boiling water right out into the field, and cook it and eat it right where you grow it. Corn has the highest ratio of sugar to starch of any vegetable and, within minutes of picking, the sugars begin to decompose into starch so that within 24 hours corn has lost more than 25% of its sugars. Here again is where hyperlocal, hyperfresh only happen in your backyard kitchen garden: unless you grow your own sweet corn, you’ve never enjoyed the real thing.
Archeological evidence traces corn back over 80,000 years in Mexico. Indigenous peoples in the Americas grew corn extensively and called it mahiz, food gift from the gods, the origins of our word maize. Native Americans venerated corn along with winter squash and beans. They grew them harmoniously for tens of thousands of years in a milpah.
Pick your corn when the ears are plump and long and you can feel the kernels fat inside. They should appear shiny and moist. The silk should be sticky and moist too. Store corn — but preferably not for long — in its husks in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
Corn obviously can be enjoyed on the cob. I eat corn the way I learned as a teenager on the beach of Baja California: grilled or boiled until tender, with lots of fresh butter, hot sauce, lime juice and a little salt. (I was young! What did I know about street vendors? And I lived to tell.) Memorable, messy and marvelous. To grill corn, wrap the shucked corn on the cob tightly in foil with butter. Turn it often over medium-hot coals for about 15-20 minutes. You can also bake the wrapped corn in the oven at 350 degrees. Mark Bittman tells us how to roast corn by heating the oven to 400 degrees, rubbing olive oil on the shucked corn, sprinkling with salt and pepper and roasting, turning often, until the kernels begin to brown, about 15-20 minutes. It’s absolutely delicious roasted. The kernels can be eaten off the cob or sliced off for soup or fritters.
Corn features in many recipes. One ear of corn produces about a 1/2 cup of kernels when removed from the cob. I like a simple corn chowder. I know there are many fine recipes but I’ll give my basic one here.
1 red onion, minced
kernels sliced from 6-7 ears of shucked corn
butter, 1/2 to 1 stick
1 quart of water, stock, milk or half & half
1. Melt the butter in a cast iron pot over medium heat and add the onion, stirring until soft. Add the corn kernels for about 3-5 minutes.
2. Add liquid. Depending on how thick and rich you want your soup, you can use water, stock, milk or half & half. Bring to a low boil and let cook for about 5-10 minutes. Turn heat to low to keep soup warm but not boiling.
3. Carefully put about 1/3 of the hot soup, including the kernels, in the blender. Puree and stir back into the soup pot. You might strain the soup if you don’t like the skins. Salt and pepper to taste.
Other variations: add a diced red pepper or a small chili pepper to the onions and butter. Or garlic. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche.
How do you enjoy your sweet corn?