This summer’s extreme heat is greatly reducing the amount of corn many growers will be bringing to farmers markets or doing in their corn crops altogether. But those who irrigate are having better luck, and what does show up at market is likely to have an added benefit: Freshly picked corn, always remarkably sweet, gets even sweeter when temperatures soar.
“In such a real dry, hot year, the flavor is better because the sugar content is a little higher,” says Dave Thies, whose Thies Farm and Greenhouse grows corn in Maryland Heights, Mo., and sells it at farm stands and farmers markets.
Thies has been able to bring in a steady crop — and expects to continue into the fall with only minor gaps — because his corn fields are irrigated.
Sweetness, texture and shelf life all play a part in what varieties a farmer chooses to grow. For Thies, the short distance between soil and sale makes long shelf life a nonissue.
Bodacious and Incredible are known as sugary enhancer, or “se” corn, a term based on a gene discovered in the 1960s by A.M. “Dusty” Rhodes, a professor of horticulture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Sugary enhancer corn is sweeter than standard corn, but it also has a relatively short shelf life.
Obsession and Providence fall into categories known as augmented supersweet or synergistic corn.
Thies says that his farm mostly grows hybrid sugary enhancer varieties of corn.
He hopes that a round of planting about three weeks ago will mean that he has corn available until about mid-September, reflecting a recent trend toward a later end to the season.
“We’d usually shoot for Labor Day (for the end of the corn harvest),” Thies says. “Last year it was mid-September, and we’re looking to go at least that late this year.”
HOW TO BUY, STORE AND COOK CORN
Buying: Choose ears that are full and plump, with lots of silk and tightly wrapped husks. The silk should be moist and slightly sticky, and the more silk the better.
Storing: In general, don’t. Eat the corn as soon as possible. The sugar in many types of corn — especially those preferred by small farmers — converts quickly to starch. If you must store corn, leave it in the husk, put it in a plastic bag with holes and refrigerate for two days at the most.
De-silking: Slightly dampen a paper towel and rub it from the top to bottom of each ear.
Cutting off the kernels: Cut off the stem end of the corn. Stand it flat on that end in a wide bowl, and use a chef’s knife to slice off the kernels, leaving about 1/8 to 1/2 inch of kernel on the cob to avoid tough fibers. Then run the back of the knife down the cut cob to remove any remaining corn milk.
Cooking: Less is better; overcooking toughens corn kernels. Many sources say that salting water used for boiling also toughens the corn. For uses such as salads, freshly picked corn actually may be better raw.
SPICY CORN, SHIITAKE AND BACON SALSA
3 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kernels from 4 ears fresh corn (about 3 cups)
Freshly cracked black pepper
1 large clove garlic, diced
1 small jalapeño, diced, with seeds if hotter flavor desired
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup vegetable, chicken or beef stock (see note)
8 shiitake mushroom caps, cleaned and sliced
Cook bacon in a large pan over medium-low heat until crispy, stirring occasionally, 14 to 18 minutes. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper-towel-lined plate. Turn off the heat, leaving the bacon fat in the pan.
In a different wide, nonstick pan, heat oil over medium heat. When oil is hot (but before it smokes), add corn, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Stir until some of the kernels start to darken, 12 to 15 minutes.
While the corn is cooking, place the pan with the bacon fat over medium heat. Add garlic; sauté for 1 minute. Add jalapeño and red pepper; sauté for 1 minute. Add stock. Using a wooden spoon, scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan as the stock comes to a boil. Add mushrooms and salt and pepper to taste; stir to combine. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the corn and stir.
Reduce the heat to low; add bacon. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is warm. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve as a side dish or over sliced grilled steak or chicken.
Note: Use the stock that’s appropriate for what you plan to accompany the salsa (beef stock for steak, for example).
• Makes 4 servings
Adapted from a recipe by Long Island chef Seth Koslow in “I Love Corn,” by Lisa Skye (Andrews McMeel, 2012)
SWEET CORN SOUP
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium white onion, finely chopped
1/2 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1 small clove garlic, minced
Kernels from 4 ears of corn (about 3 cups)
1/4 teaspoon anise seed
2 to 3 sprigs fresh thyme, tied in a bunch, plus 4 small sprigs for garnish
5 cups corn stock or vegetable stock
Freshly ground black pepper
In a medium pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and carrot and cook until lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Add shallot and garlic and cook for 3 minutes.
Reserve about 1/2 cup of corn for garnish. Add the remaining corn to the pot; cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add anise and thyme; cook for 2 minutes. Add stock and simmer for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Remove the thyme. Working in batches, pour the soup into a blender. Secure the lid by covering with a towel and hold down the lid. Process until soup is puréed. When all of the soup is puréed, strain it through a fine mesh and serve garnished with the reserved corn kernels and the additional thyme.
• Makes 4 servings
Adapted from a recipe by chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., in “I Love Corn,” by Lisa Skye (Andrews McMeel, 2012)
TOMATES RELLENOS CON CHOCLO (CORN-STUFFED TOMATOES)
4 large, ripe tomatoes
1 1/2 cups cooked corn kernels, cooled to room temperature
1/2 cup chopped ham
1/2 cup finely diced onion
4 tablespoons mayonnaise, divided
2 cups shredded lettuce
Cut the top off of the tomatoes and remove the pulp with a spoon. Remove and discard seeds; chop the pulp.
Mix pulp with corn, ham, onion and 2 tablespoons mayonnaise. Fill the tomatoes with the mixture, then top each with a dollop of mayonnaise.
Divide the lettuce among four plates, put a tomato on each and serve.
• Makes 4 servings
Adapted from “Three Generations of Chilean Cuisine,” by Mirtha Umaña-Murray (Lowell House, 1996)
CALABACITAS (ZUCCHINI WITH GREEN CHILES AND CORN)
Yield: 4 servings
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 Anaheim or similar green chiles, stemmed, seeded and cut into thirds
6 green onions, white and green portions, cut into 1-inch lengths
2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into rough 1/2-inch chunks
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 cup fresh (from about 2 ears) or frozen corn kernels
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1. Drop garlic into a food processor through the feed tube while the motor is running. Turn off the machine, add chiles and green onions, and process until finely chopped, stopping at least once to scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. Transfer chopped mixture into a medium bowl; add the zucchini.
2. Heat oil and butter in a 10- to 12-inch skillet, then add zucchini mixture. Sauté over medium heat for 5 minutes, tossing occasionally. The zucchini should begin to lose its rawness but should not be allowed to brown.
3. Add salt, pepper to taste, cream and corn. Cover the pan and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and test the zucchini; it should be just cooked but still somewhat crisp.
4. Add cheese off the heat and stir to incorporate and melt it. If the heat of the vegetables isn’t enough to melt the cheese, return the skillet to low heat for a few minutes until the cheese melts.
Per serving: 285 calories; 23g fat; 10g saturated fat; 50mg cholesterol; 7g protein; 15g carbohydrate; 6g sugar; 2.5g fiber; 265mg sodium; 155mg calcium.
Adapted from “The Feast of Santa Fe,” by Huntley Dent (Fireside, 1985)
CORN ‘CEVICHE’ IN CORN WATER
Yield: 6 servings
3 medium ears corn
4 cups vegetable broth
Sea or kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup quartered radishes
1/4 cup shaved red onion
3 tablespoons finely diced red bell pepper
1 teaspoon minced habanero chile
1 teaspoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
Bibb lettuce or red leaf lettuce, for serving
1. Cut the corn kernels from the cobs. Measure 2 cups kernels; cover and refrigerate. Refrigerate extra corn kernels for another use.
2. Combine the cobs and broth in a medium pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate the broth and cobs until chilled, then strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve.
3. Peel and pit the avocados; cut into 1/4-inch slices. In a large bowl, combine corn kernels, avocados, tomatoes, radishes, red onion, red pepper and habanero. Season with a good amount of salt and a little bit of pepper.
4. In another bowl, combine ginger, cilantro, basil, lime juice and orange juice. Pour over the vegetables; marinate for at least 30 minutes.
5. Pour about 1/4 cup corn broth into individual bowls. Top broth with a lettuce leaf, then top the leaf with some of the ceviche, repeating until all of the ceviche is used. Chill and serve cold.
Per serving: 185 calories; 11g fat; 1.5g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 4g protein; 23g carbohydrate; 8g sugar; 6.5g fiber; 650mg sodium; 27mg calcium.
Adapted from a recipe by chef Michelle Bernstein of Michy’s restaurant in Miami in “I Love Corn,” by Lisa Skye (Andrews McMeel, 2012)