We Midwesterners love our corn! After all, we produce a large portion of the nation’s harvest of corn; it makes a living for a lot of us. The leading corn-producing states are Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota and Indiana. We Midwesterners love our corn! After all, we produce a large portion of the nation’s harvest of corn; it makes a living for a lot of us. The leading corn-producing states are Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota and Indiana. Aside from that, though, we love eating the stuff. We can hardly wait until the sweet corn is ready to eat. When we see those stands at the side of the road, we know we’re in for some good eating.
According to the Foods & Nutrition Encyclopedia, maize (corn to us) is native to the Americas. It was grown in all parts of the Americas, from Canada to Chile. The natives prized corn with colorful kernels-yellow, white, red, blue, pink and black-as well as those with bands, spots or stripes. During the 13th Century corn symbolized life itself and planting it was an act of worship. In some cultures, a special ear of corn was dedicated to each newborn baby as its "Corn Mother," to help it survive. Corn was introduced to Europe by Christopher Columbus who first encountered it on the island now known as Cuba.
Every school child learns the importance of corn in the early years of the English settlements in America. A Narraganset tribesman named Squanto taught the struggling Plymouth Pilgrims how to cultivate corn, thus saving many people from starvation. The colonists often used corn as money.
Sweet corn is grown chiefly for human consumption, and is harvested at an immature stage. The kernels are relatively high in sugar at this point-perfect for corn on the cob.
In her book, Cookwise (William Morrow and Company, New York, 1998), Shirley Corriher writes: "My husband, whose father prided himself on growing fine sweet corn, says the only way to cook corn on the cob is the call back to the house from the cornfield, ‘the water boiling?’ When the answer is, ‘yes,’ pull the corn and run, shucking it as you go, to get it into the pot as fast as you can. Since most of us can’t do this, a little honey in the cooking water helps restore nature’s sweetness."
When sweet corn is very fresh, eating it simply boiled, steamed, or microwaved is best. The fresher, the better. As soon as it is picked, the sugar in corn starts losing sweetness. How do you know when it is fresh? The best way, of course, is to pick it yourself. Otherwise, if you trust your vendor, ask. Then, check the husks. They should be bright, tight and perhaps, damp. The silk at the top should be, well, silky, not brittle. The stem should be moist. If you poke one of the top kernels, a milky liquid should spurt out.
When recipes call for corn kernels, wake up the taste by using roasted corn (see below). If you can’t wait for the sweet corn, use frozen or canned corn.
Fire Roasted Corn: Carefully peel back husks from corn, remove and discard silk. Return husks to original position. Cut 8-inch pieces of string. Place string and corn in a large bowl; add cold water to cover. Let stand 25 to 30 minutes. Prepare grill for medium-hot. Tie husks with soaked string. Arrange ears 4 to 5 inches above coals. Grill, covered, until husks are brown, 20 to 25 minutes, turning twice. Serve on the cob, or cool and remove husks. Cut kernels from cob with a sharp knife, scraping to release as much liquid as possible.
Oven Roasted Corn: Husk corn and remove silk. Cut kernels from corn with a sharp knife, scraping to release as much liquid as possible. In a rectangular13x9x2 inch-baking pan, arrange 1-cup fresh corn kernels in a single layer; drizzle with 1-teaspoon olive oil. Roast in 400° oven until tender, 20 to 25 minutes.