Garden Fresh: Corn

Categories: Garden Fresh

John Kiely
For half of my life, a crop was part of my ID. "Where are you from?" "Indiana." "Oh, yeah, I've been there. Lots of corn."

I thought it would get better when I moved west to New Mexico. "Oh, yeah, green chiles." It's better to live in Texas, where the stereotypes are more substantial--cowboys, guns and barbecue.

It was not out of nostalgia but curiosity that I planted corn this year. Easy enough--dig a furrow with a stick and drop in the withered yellow kernels of the "Early & Often Hybrid" sweet corn. They're aptly named, as all of the seeds sprouted in a week. Rather than "knee-high by Fourth of July", the plants reached that stage by April Fool's.

That was the end stage. The corn stalks, which were picture-perfect a few days earlier, were now covered with some strange purple substance, which upon closer examination turned out to be hordes of aphids. These pests had in turn attracted a swarm of ladybugs, but not in sufficient numbers to make a difference. If I wanted Houston corn, I needed pesticides.

I eat foods with pesticides on a daily basis, but if I have to apply it myself, I'll lose my appetite for the result. The cornstalks in the picture are mine; the ear of corn is not.

Indiana has the best sweet corn in America. Nevertheless, I've never known anyone in that state who knew how to cook it. Invariably, cooks drop ears into boiling water for an indeterminate time until it gets mushy. The technique I learned is from a friend born New York City. Go figure.

1. Shuck the corn, remove the silk, with a soft toothbrush if need be.
2. Place ears of corn in a pot with cold water. Bring the pot of water to a boil, covered. Turn off the heat, and let the ears sit in the hot water for 10 minutes, then fish them out with tongs.
3. Butter the ears, salt them lightly, and pepper them.

If you want to slice the kernels off the cob, stand the ear up in a large bowl, and slice downward with a paring knife. If you use a chef's knife, it will launch kernels all over your kitchen.

Look for non-locavore corn in stores now through September.

Follow Eating Our Words on Facebook and on Twitter @EatingOurWords

Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help

Ah, summer.  The time of year where on any major country intersection there's a sweet corn stand.  I was totally spoiled growing up - the farmer that leased my grandparents' field would plant a small plot of sweet corn, so we always had it fresh.  Dad would go out into the field, pick some of the best, and we'd cook it up that night.  I'm partial to Illini super-sweet, but I'm an Illinois girl.  John is completely right - you have to know where the sweet corn is in the field; otherwise, you're eating seed corn and that isn't good.


 I suggested to a Viet restaurant that they grill corn on the patio. They responded that the corn in Viet Nam is very different from the US. More chewy, less water and sugar, compared to the US counterpart. Anyone know about this?


I tried to grown corn once. Totally destroyed by bugs. Damn you, bugs. 

John Kiely
John Kiely

If one were to pull over, drunk, next to almost any Midwest field of corn, run through it, grab an ear and bite into it, one would find just that sort of corn (my high school buddies and I know nothing about that).  Most of the corn produced for feed and industry is not tasty. 


I checked Wikipedia but was stunned by the amount of information.  So I'm going back to what know. Much corn is grown to be dried & ground into meal.  Or made into hominy.  Or popped!  These varieties might not be suitable for eating fresh.  So the Vietnamese might be used to the "harder" varieties of corn.  (Googled "Vietnam" & "Corn"--another information overload; hey, they also grow the mini-corn you get in many Asian dishes.) 

Corn (maize) was not originally a Vietnamese foodstuff.  But the French taught the Vietnamese how to bake & make pot-au-feu (pho) before the Vietnamese kicked them out.  Our local Vietnamese learned how to cook some mighty fine crawfish from the Louisianans in our midst.  Why don't you suggest the restaurant owners check out Mexican elotes & add their own flavorings?  This could be the next fusion dish to sweep Houston cuisine....

Now Trending

From the Vault