Cooler temperatures mean that the City Hall Farmers Market is open once again and that more Houstonians will be heading out to enjoy the many other excellent farmers' markets across the city. Each week, we'll be spotlighting a produce pick from the Urban Harvest network of farmers' markets by showing you how to select it, what makes it special and what to do with it.
The gorgeous variegated corn you see above has an equally pretty name: Ruby Queen Corn. It's a rare variety of corn that's been hybridized over the years to produce its unusual color and natural sweetness, and is only available in Houston through the efforts of Animal Farm, a family-run certified organic farm in Cat Spring, about 15 minutes northwest of Sealy.
"No one is planting Ruby Queen on a commercial level, so the only place to find it as the [Eastside] market," says Urban Harvest market director Tyler Horne. "Their Ruby Queen is harvested early when it's a lighter red color in order to maximize its sweetness. If harvested later, it becomes almost purple in color and has a more intense corn flavor with less sweetness."
Animal Farm planted a quarter-acre of the Ruby Queen as an experiment and found that -- while lovely and delicious -- there were only one to two ears of corn harvestable per plant, resulting in very low yields. But, says Horne, "what Ruby Queen it lacks in production yields, it makes up for in the antioxidant 'anthocyanin' that gives the corn its dark red color that holds up to cooking."
Animal Farm will only have a very limited selection this week, so come early, he cautions.
As for how to use the purple corn, you can treat it like any other ear -- but be careful not to overcook it, or you'll destroy the natural delicate sweetness. Horne offered this recipe from our mutual friend David Leftwich, a noted home cook whose creations often rival those found in four-star restaurants.
Ruby Queen Corn Salsa (served in this case with Golden Tilefish, often available at Revival Market)
With the sharp edge of your knife, shave the corn kernels off the cob into a bowl and reserve the cobs for future use. Peel and dice a watermelon radish. Cut stems of purslane into bite size pieces. Chiffonade a few leaves of amaranth. Pick and chop some Mexican oregano. Mix all of the vegetables in a bowl with the juice of one or two limes, a drizzle or two of good olive oil (I used Texas Hill Country olive oil, which is available at Urban Harvest's Eastside farmers market) and salt. Taste and adjust.
If you've been enjoying the fresh produce from Animal Farm, consider checking out their upcoming farm-to-table dinner on October 20. Starting with pizza and cocktails by the pool (yes, Animal Farm has a pool!), dinner will be served by chefs Chandler Rothbard (BRC Gastropub), German Mosquera (Roots Bistro) and Richard Kaplan (Brown Paper Chocolates), who will collaborate on a six-course tasting menu paired with beer and wine amidst the beautiful fall foliage. Tickets are $125 a person and -- speaking from personal experience -- a dinner at Animal Farm is a unique experience that you won't soon forget.
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