Sunday, July 26, 2009
Corn-y Drive thru
Perhaps it is more common across the country than I am giving it credit. Perhaps all of you are madly awaiting the first precious corn stands to grace the roadsides near you. This is yet another way that my area marks the passage of summer time. First it was rhubarb, then strawberries, and now it's corn, and soon, tomatoes. I giggle at the sign that comes out this time of year at our local market. That's right, folks, we have a drive-through for corn on the cob.
Not only do you get the privilege of driving right up to the door and getting handed a brown bag of deliciousness, but if there is not someone waiting right there for you, you can "honk" and they come running. See the sign in the distance? I'm not kidding! I had to wait several minutes for the cars to pass for these pictures of the signs.
The price today was $5.00 for a dozen or $3 for a half dozen. One dozen isn't really twelve. In Minnesota, a dozen corn is usually at least "a baker's dozen" of thirteen, and today it was fourteen lovely ears of sweet goodness. In general, this state is very fussy about its corn and knows several varieties by heart that it prefers. They talk about early versus late corn. When my parents ask at the stands what kind of corn it is, they are hoping to hear that its "Jubilee"; my friend from Iowa is a bi-colored corn lover and waits for its arrival. There is white, yellow, and bi-colored corn, and at some select markets, they carry red. I prefer an early yellow, but don't have a favorite flavor after that.
Many hybrids of corn have been developed for its various uses and canning/freezing properties. Seneca Foods has been instrumental in the development of corn hybrids for their "Green Giant" label. There is a large corn canning (it's called packing here) plant in my hometown of Rochester, Minnesota. I'm pretty sure Libby's is packed in Rochester too. The Seneca Food's distinctive water tower is a city landmark. I have been told that it is painted as an exact replica of an ear of corn, right down to the number of rows of corn. But I don't know what variety! I've never counted the water tower's rows, but there are different numbers of rows depending on the type of sweet corn. If you're going to count, count around the middle of your ear of corn, as each end tapers and you won't get the correct number. Usually I get between ten and sixteen rows, but always even numbers. You'll have to check yours next time.
The tassels at the top of the corn stalk in the field are the pollination for an ear. My friend lost his crop of corn last year after deer ate all the tassels off. So he had a pretty green field, but no cobs. A Midwestern farmer will also give away his background by being able to tell the field of sweet corn at first glance by the tassel color. Field corn is dark tasseled, and is grown for cattle. Although I've eaten it, it's tough, and strong tasting, and made for storing in a grain facility over winter. It's usually got dented kernels, which is also a sign that your corn is past maturity.
At the state fair, corn is cooked while still in its husk, peeled with heavy-duty gloves, and the husk becomes the handle.
Husking corn is almost always relegated to the youngsters of the family. It's an outdoor job, done by a garbage can in my day, by a recycling bin nowadays. Bonus points are given the less "hair" you leave behind. It's proper name is silk.
You may purchase many corn accessories. There are special handles which poke into each end of corn so that you can hold the corn without burning your fingers. They are big sellers. Butter dispensers of various styles are available too, but many simply put a stick of spread on a plate and let everyone "roll their own".
Some cooks bring the water to boil and then put in the cobs of corn. Some cooks bring both the corn and the water to boil together. Some salt the water, some say that dents the kernels. Some boil it only four minutes, some over ten. Some prefer to steam it in only an inch or so of water. And when making only one ear, you can wrap it in wax paper, and microwave it for two minutes. Debates rage about whether or not to pepper corn, simple salt and butter are the gold standard.
My mother brings a sharp knife to the table and cuts hers off the cob. When I had braces on my teeth, I could still enjoy corn this way. The goal was to see how big you could get the pieces to fall off the ear. My goal is always a full row, top to bottom.
When I had corn once in Connecticut, the host had made one ear per person. Although that seems like built-in portion control, in my family, that would have raised eyebrows and been the brunt of a snicker in the car on the way home. Some of us make a meal of corn during the season here, and "How many ears can you eat tonight?" was a staple question of my youth.
Do you have a corn-y story?