Mary Ann Lienhart Cross
Food & Nutrition
I have learned over the years that many people don’t think about how the weather affects our locally grown food. I understand that we have been having a lot of rain, but just think back to last year and how we did not have rain and a result the entire crop of locally grown vegetables was very limited.
There have been stories about when we will have locally grown sweet corn. I thought of the late Herman Bullard and the vision he had to grow great-tasting sweet corn. I remember being with him in a field and he pulled an ear, husked it and declared that his “corn was good enough to eat raw but if you did cook it, it sure did not need butter or salt.” Herman was a very smart farmer in many ways, and I agree that good sweet corn doesn’t need butter. I just want to taste the wonderful corn flavor after it has been just cooked; I sure don’t want it overcooked.
Sweet corn growing is in full production and soon I will be receiving calls from clients wanting the how-to information on cooking and preserving. The most important fact that you need to learn from this column is that the corn has to be blanched/heated and then gotten very cold before you freeze it. This is because you want to stop the enzyme growth that allows the kernels to mature, but you want to stop the kernels from continuing to mature.
There is a lot of discussion amongst people about blanching before you cut off the cob or cutting it off first and then heating. I personally prefer to blanch it first, then place the ears in very cold water, cut it from the cob and place in freezer bags or containers for freezing. From my experience the corn has the most flavor and this makes the least amount of mess. For a Purdue Extension publication on “Let’s Preserve Sweet Corn” visit http://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/CFS/CFS-595-W.pdf.
Now for the science part of the column: Corn, also called maize, is not technically a vegetable, but a grass native to the new world. Of the hundreds of cultivated strains, most can be classified as sweet corn, popcorn or field corn.
Popcorn is a type of corn whose kernels burst open when exposed to heat, revealing the familiar dry, white puffy interior. Popcorn is one of the healthiest snacks around and we should all eat more of it vs. all the processed snack foods.
Field corn is used for canned and dried hominy and ground for grits, also corn meal, called masa harina.
Corn as we eat it is marketed for human consumption, whether fresh, canned, frozen or dried sweet corn, which stores more sugar than starch. Sweet corn may be yellow, white or bicolor and in full-sized ears or baby corn that can be eaten in its entirety. When sweet corn is picked, the sugar it contains begins rapidly converting to starch, so it is advisable to cook corn as soon as possible after picking or purchasing.
Fresh sweet corn on the cob is best steamed, boiled, oven roasted, grilled or microwaved and eaten. Fresh corn kernels may be made into soup or added to soup, used in salads, vegetable sautés, fritters and relishes, or even creamed or made into puddings or soufflés. In some countries chunks of steamed sweet corn are added to stews.
Fresh corn is sold almost year round, with peak supplies in July and August. During the off season most of our corn comes from Florida. When selecting choose ears that feel full and heavy for their size; kernels should be relatively small and milky when pierced and silk should be moist without any sign of drying or decay.
When it comes to storage try to keep fresh corn in the refrigerator in a plastic bag and prepare as soon as possible. The corn will keep a fresh flavor if you do not remove the husk and silk until ready to prepare it. These natural wrappers will help keep the corn from drying out when exposed to the cold air of the refrigerator. Leftover frozen or canned corn may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days.
When preparing, remove the husk and silk from fresh corn if steaming, boiling or microwaving. To oven-roast or grill, peel back husk but leave attached. Remove silk and replace husk, tying it shut at the tip with string. Soak in cold water 30 minutes to moisten husk, then roast or grill. Alternatively, remove husk and silk, wrap ears in foil with butter, and roast or grill.
Soon it will be time to enjoy fresh sweet corn. If you have some left that has been cooked, cut it and add it to cornmeal pancakes for a real treat.
Mary Ann Lienhart Cross is county extension director and an extension educator in health and human sciences at Purdue Extension Elkhart County. Contact her at 574-533-0554 or firstname.lastname@example.org.