Friday Photo: A farm girl’s guide to end-of-the-season sweet corn
Each year, my family “puts away” corn, meaning that we husk dozens of sweet corn (at one point, it was around 100) picked from our field, boil it, cool it, cut it off the cob and pack it into freezer containers. When I was younger, this meant taking one full Saturday away from playing badminton and devoting myself to husking, silking, and stacking corn cobs into newspaper-lined crates with my cousins. The older brothers and fathers would boil and cool the corn; the women would cut it off the cob, and we’d all come together to eat an enormous barbeque.
I wasn’t often asked to help pick the sweet corn that is sold beneath the shade trees of Gro-Lan Farms in Shippensburg, but because I never ate out-of-season corn (like what’s sold at Kentucky Fried Chicken) until high school, I still have strong opinions of what kind of corn I’m looking for. For me, it’s not the size or the color (white, yellow, or mixed) of the kernel that counts; it’s how easily the kernel comes off the cob. Corn grown for shipping has a tougher kernel that’s genetically modified to better ensure the jostling of freight or boat, but locally-grown corn has a smaller, softer kernel that bursts pleasantly in the mouth and runs more richly with juice. Whether drowned in Land O Lakes butter and salt — my family’s preference — or grilled with goat cheese, mayonnaise, and fresh lime juice (as served at the Snack Bar of Troegs Brewery in Hershey), locally-grown sweet corn is what I prefer to sink my teeth into.
In south-central Pennsylvania, most sweet corn is typically in season from July to August, although this year’s warmer temperatures and earlier planting caused the season, as reported by The Shippensburg News-Chronicle, to begin about two weeks early. This means that even though it’s early August, some farmers are approaching the end of their sweet corn season while others, like my father, have already finished
To still secure the best corn you can, find a local vendor, such as Oak Grove Farms (846 Fisher Road, Mechanicsburg, (717) 766-2216) or Basehore Farm Market (6080 Creekview Road, Mechanicsburg, 717-691-9349) who pick the corn, can tell you its origin, and will sell it to you fresh. If you do not have the time, look for “locally-grown” sweet corn in the produce section of the grocery store.
When selecting sweet corn that is not my father’s, I personally look for leafy, not dried, husks that cover up firm, evenly-spaced kernels. Overly-firm or puckered, discolored kernels indicate to me that the corn is old, and, as corn begins losing its sugar content the longer it’s off the stalk, it’s best to secure corn the day it’s picked. To boil corn, husk it and plunge it immediately into salted, boiling water for no more than three minutes. My 91-year-old grandmother will fly into a rage if you cook our corn longer than that.
Keep warm by draping the corn with a dishtowel until serving.