All Ears: Sweet Corn to Savor and to Save

Sweet. Not starchy.

I’ll own it. I’m a bit of a corn snob.

Not for a particular variety of corn, though I do celebrate the day in August when the first Silver Queen comes in. Nor for corn from a particular place, though I grew up smack in this country’s Corn Belt (seriously, my middle school was literally surrounded by corn fields—in the second-biggest city in Illinois).

No, my snobbery is completely about Freshness.

Just like peas, as soon as that ear is twisted from the stalk, those tender, sugar-milk kernels starting converting into tasteless, chewy starch.

Ideally, we’d all live by my grandparents’ don’t-pick-the-corn-until-the-water’s-boiling rule.

Not many of us are blessed with such proximity to the fields anymore, though, (nor blessed, as I was 30+ years ago, with a little brother who worked at Frelk’s Farm).

Access to truly fresh sweet corn is tougher these days. You’ll not likely find it at the supermarket; sadly, if it’s already shucked and shrink-wrapped onto a styrofoam tray, it’s probably starch corn, not sweet corn. Three or four days is really all it takes to turn succulent sweet corn into gummy, rubbery blech-on-the-cob.

Farmstands, farmer’s markets, and CSAs are really your best bet for getting ears that are less 48 hours off the stalk. So I had high hopes when LFFC’s preview email last Saturday promised, weather permitting, the season’s first.

WOW, did they deliver!

My sharebox Monday included a dozen beautiful ears, with dark brown tufts of silk and plump, smallish, kernels bursting with sweet cream. Twelve. In a half share. For someone who lives alone. And who can’t bring herself to eat corn more than a couple days aged. Sure, I was riding the Squashapalooza high—having knocked off eight zucchini last week—but I knew there was no way I could down a twelve-pack in a couple-three days.

I shotgunned two ears for dinner Monday night, had another on Tuesday, and, later that night, while I finished up the binge-watching of Orange is the New Black, I also finished up the binge-cooking of the rest of my stash. Into the freezer they went.

Corn Rules
  1. Don’t shuck it until you’re ready. Those husks help protect the kernels and also slow down the sugar-to-starch conversion process.
  2. Keep it cool. Exposing sweet corn to room temperature (even air-conditioned room temperature) accelerates the conversion, too. Better to keep your ears in the fridge – or a big cooler if you can’t spare the space.
  3. Eat it up or put it up, quickly. You really do only have a couple-day window for peak flavor.
Eat it Up
Around? Or across?
  1. As a raw add-in. Cut the corn off the cob and use it raw in salads.
  2. As the salad star. Marry the raw corn with tomatoes, black beans, red onions, peppers, cilantro, and a citrus vinaigrette for a bright, screams-summer salad.
  3. In pasta. Lightly sautée loose kernels in butter or olive oil and toss with tomatoes and other veggies in a quick pasta. Or toast them with a tiny amount of butter in a hot pan and add them to a salsa.
  4. With shredded zucchini in Fritters!
  5. Grilled in the husk. Steam-grill whole ears by soaking them (husks on) in a water bath for 15 minutes, then grilling them off to the side (indirect heat) while you grill your meat/fish/whatever. Bonus if a few of the husks start to char – smells like the State Fair (without the the sweaty hordes)!
  6. Mom’s way. Employ the failsafe corn-boil method. Start the water in a big pot. Shuck the corn. When the water’s boiling, put in the ears (break or cut them if you need to). Put a lid on the pot. Turn the burner off. Set the timer for exactly seven minutes. I don’t know why seven minutes; well, because my mom says so, that’s why. They’re perfect every time.
Put it Up
Frozen corn
Blanch, shock, cut, measure, label, bag, freeze.

Your goal is to preserve what you can’t eat up while it’s still at peak freshness. Usually in a crunch for time, I opt for freezing over canning.

  • Boil the ears as above, but only for 5 minutes.
  • Shock them in an ice bath to arrest the cooking process.
  • Slice the kernels off the cob.
  • Load them into zipper bags, squeeze out the air, and freeze.

They’ll keep for about 9 months. Note that 2 cobs’ worth of kernels is about a cup. Also note that if you use a vacuum sealer, it’s way easier to get a good seal—and it creates way, way less mess—if you freeze the corn first and then vacuum-pack it. If you skip that step, the moisture from the corn will be sucked out right along with the air in the package—and may even spray onto nearby items. Like, say, your camera. Oops.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Ted Crawshaw says:

    A lazy man’s way. Rap an ear of unshackled corn in a wet paper towel, microwave for 5 minutes per ear. Hot, cut off last one inch of cob. Slide.ear out of husk-all silk has disappeared.
    Grampa Ted

  2. Susan says:

    Wish I had that trick back in the day, Dad. I remember that your dad used to pay Mike & me each a quarter to clean a bag of corn, and then he’d deduct a penny for every strand of silk he found later.

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