Since I grew up in the cornfields of southeast Michigan, I know the difference between field corn and sweet corn. And like any other good country girl, I know that the field corn should be “knee high by the 4th of July.” I even detassled field corn for a few farmers during the hot months of summer.
I guess I would also consider myself somewhat of a sweet corn snob, since I have had some of the best corn around since I could pretend I was a little typewriter and nibbling off each kernel, then shouting “Ding!” when we got to the end of the cob.
Around our neighborhood, it is easy to find some fresh sweet corn. Everyone goes gaga over farmer Bill Reed’s sweet corn and you can find it in Borchardt Brothers Grocery story and other roadside stands.
When I was a teenager, I sold corn and fresh produce from the Deneker’s stand right on U.S. 223. That was a great job and I worked hard and learned a lot about peaches and cream, white pearl and when to know when they were perfectly ripe.
What’s in a name?
Sweet, field and pop are not the same and they will blend together if you plant them too close to each other. So let’s get into some science.
How does corn get pollinated? It flies through the air. The silky tassels catch the pollen as it blows by. But because the plants catch airborne pollen, it is important not to plant sweet corn near any field corn, popcorn or Indian corn. If it is, your sweet corn has the chance of turning out starchy and not as sweet.
How far? At least 250 feet needs to be between varieties of corn, according to Purdue University’s Cooperative Extension Service. But they say up to 700 feet is even better for complete isolation.
Pick a peck
When cruising the rows of corn, it can be tough to figure out when it is perfectly ripe. Each kernel is made up of about 75 percent water. The kernels are at their juiciest when they are in their “milk stage.” It’s easy to find that peak with the tools you have at the ends of your wrists. The kernel explodes with white juice when you puncture it with your fingernail. But it doesn’t stay in the “milk stage” for very long. You have to check the crop often. If it isn’t ready, the kernels will be watery.
If they are too old, they will be tough and almost doughy. There are other clues. The firm ears will have kernels all the way up to the tip, and the silky tassels will turn dry and brown.
Pot, grill and freezer
Once it is picked, corn will stay fresh for a few weeks if you keep it in a cool place. Try dunking it in ice-cold water before it is stored to keep it moist. They will stay fresher in the refrigerator if you remove the silk and leave some of the husk on the cob. The husk also makes good insulation if you want to toss the corn on the grill.
Clean off all of the silk and husk and toss the corn in a pot of unsalted water, then boil it until it turns bright yellow or white. Then, roll up your sleeves and twirl your corn in some butter. Blanch it, cut it off the cob, toss it in a freezer bag and save it in your freezer for any time.
I like to take out of the silk and toss it on the grill. I’m just happy with some fresh sweet corn, butter dripping down to my elbows and a side of fresh tomatoes. Thank God, I’m a country girl.
Contact Kelly Heidbreder at email@example.com.
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