What I Wish Everyone Knew About Corn
August means local corn. It is an event to be sure. Some people wait (not so) patiently all year for the opportunity to eat that which is grown in their own back yard. A quick joke comes to mind. Farmer Jones is in the garden getting ready to pick fresh corn. His wife yells out the kitchen window; ‘Is the corn ready to pick?’ He replies; ‘Is the water boiling?’
Let us start by sorting out the terms. We speak Anglo-Saxon English and incorporate a huge amount of colloquialisms into our daily speech, mostly without realizing it. ‘Corn’ is a very broad term ranging from a ‘peppercorn’ to a ‘corn’ on your big toe. The British used it to refer to a small anything, hence whiskey was made from barleycorn. In our everyday speech what we call corn ‘The People’ called maize.
Native to the Western Hemisphere, corn became a big player in the ‘Colombian Exchange.’ it was one of the crops that Columbus brought back from the ‘new world’ that profoundly changed the ‘old world’. There were two simple reasons for this; it was very easy to grow and can be easily stored once it is dried. It has been raised in the Americas for over 8,000 years, and the Indigenous People refer to it as ‘Sacred Mother’ (Maize) It is the largest single crop in the USA. Originally a wild grass (zea mays) it was domesticated and grown for its kernels. It is related to wheat, falls into the grain family, and is not a vegetable. We crave the variety called ‘Sweet Corn.
I can only imagine the patience and intuition involved in the evolution of this crop. Starting with a plant with small edible kernels, it was gathered and replanted year after year. Favoring the plants with the biggest kernels, the precious ‘ear’ gradually grew in size. Over many moons and generations it came to resemble the plant we know today, with those big succulent kernels. It is used as feed to fatten the hog. It is used as a component in making plastic. It is distilled into the ethanol that powers the truck that drives it to market. It is the main ingredient in ‘High Fructose Corn Syrup.’ It is the single biggest crop in the U.S. and our largest export. I think ‘Sacred Mother’ is rolling in her grave.
A literal powerhouse of carbohydrates, it is high in fiber and calories. It is delicious on its own, with a little butter and salt. It can be added to many recipes and just kicks them up a notch. Salsa, Tomato sauce, Chili, Meatloaf; the list is too extensive to document. Here is the hack. Whenever we eat corn during the summer we always buy at least one extra ear. It is at its most flavorful and its cheapest price point. Then we strip it and freeze it. In the chill of February when the recipe calls for frozen corn, it is right there in the freezer. It brings back a taste of summer.
So, if you don’t happen to grow it in your own back yard, pick up some fresh sweet corn. Our featured grower for this outstanding product is the MacLennan Farm of Windsor, Vermont. http://www.maclennanfarm.com/.
I am including a variation of one of my favorite recipes here, Southwestern Bean Salad. As part of the culinary team at the Co-op Commissary I made this salad many times over the years. I don’t think it has ever come off the menu. This time of year I substitute fresh local cucumbers for one of the beans to give it additional crunch and more of a local profile.
Southwestern Bean Salad, Summer Version
For the Dressing
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. cumin 1 tsp. Dijon mustard 3 oz. red wine vinegar 3 oz. olive oil 1.5 oz. lime juice 1 tsp. salt 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
For the Salad
1 (15 oz.) can black beans
2 medium cukes, small dice 1/2 cup diced red pepper 1/2 cup diced red onion 1 1/2 cups local corn 1 Tbs. cilantro, chopped 1/2 cup dressing. For the Dressing Whisk together all the dressing ingredients and set aside.
For the Salad
Open the beans and give them a quick rinse. Prep all the vegetables as needed.
In a mixing bowl combine all ingredients, gently blending in the dressing. Chill and serve.
Peel outer husks down to base of the ear.
Remove all the silk by hand.
Bring the husks back up. Soak the corn in salted water for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove and allow excess water to drain off. Cook on a preheated grill for 15 to 20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes or so. Be patient, you want a little char on that corn! Apply butter while piping hot!