Garden Fresh: Corn

For half of my life, a crop was part of my ID. "Where are you from?" "Indiana." "Oh, yeah, I've been there. Lots of corn."

I thought it would get better when I moved west to New Mexico. "Oh, yeah, green chiles." It's better to live in Texas, where the stereotypes are more substantial--cowboys, guns and barbecue.

It was not out of nostalgia but curiosity that I planted corn this year. Easy enough--dig a furrow with a stick and drop in the withered yellow kernels of the "Early & Often Hybrid" sweet corn. They're aptly named, as all of the seeds sprouted in a week. Rather than "knee-high by Fourth of July", the plants reached that stage by April Fool's.

That was the end stage. The corn stalks, which were picture-perfect a few days earlier, were now covered with some strange purple substance, which upon closer examination turned out to be hordes of aphids. These pests had in turn attracted a swarm of ladybugs, but not in sufficient numbers to make a difference. If I wanted Houston corn, I needed pesticides.

I eat foods with pesticides on a daily basis, but if I have to apply it myself, I'll lose my appetite for the result. The cornstalks in the picture are mine; the ear of corn is not.

Indiana has the best sweet corn in America. Nevertheless, I've never known anyone in that state who knew how to cook it. Invariably, cooks drop ears into boiling water for an indeterminate time until it gets mushy. The technique I learned is from a friend born New York City. Go figure.

1. Shuck the corn, remove the silk, with a soft toothbrush if need be. 2. Place ears of corn in a pot with cold water. Bring the pot of water to a boil, covered. Turn off the heat, and let the ears sit in the hot water for 10 minutes, then fish them out with tongs. 3. Butter the ears, salt them lightly, and pepper them.

If you want to slice the kernels off the cob, stand the ear up in a large bowl, and slice downward with a paring knife. If you use a chef's knife, it will launch kernels all over your kitchen.

Look for non-locavore corn in stores now through September.

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John Kiely
Contact: John Kiely