Local Sweet Corn
Americans seem to be the only people who understand the virtues of sweet corn on the cob. A native American grain related to wheat, barley, and rye, corn didn't reach Europe until the sixteenth century. It's still far more popular here than among Europeans, who continue to call corn by its proper name--maize.
Sweet corn is harvested young for use as a vegetable. Field corn is the variety that's dried and ground for meal, pressed for corn oil, or used as feed for livestock.
The best sweet corn is an ear that's brought from the field straight to the pot. Years ago farmers would deliver corn to our market at three o'clock in the morning. My father would wake us, and we'd have to go down to the store to unload the corn--dozens of bags with fifty ears in each bag. There was a little stove at the back of the store, and my mother would put water on to boil, husk a bunch of ears, and cook corn for us right on the spot, which made this awful middle-of-the-night chore bearable. It was so fresh coming off the truck that to this day I don't think I've ever had corn as good.
Once corn is picked, its natural sugars start turning to starch. The process is slowed by refrigeration, but by the time corn is harvested and shipped form California or Florida to the rest of the country, as much as a week may have passed. The corn will be pretty good, but not as good as corn picked locally. People with vegetable gardens literally start boiling the water before the corn is picked so they can put it in the pot as fast as they can shuck it.
You can get white, yellow, or bicolor corn, and though lots of people have preferences, the color has little to do with the sweetness. The only thing that determines taste is how long it's been off the stalk. There are, however, two relatively new hybrids designed to make corn hold its sugar longer: sugar-enhanced varieties and the newer "supersweets." Sugar-enhanced varieties have good corn flavor and are excellent when corn is out of season and has to be shipped to market. The supersweets are very, very sweet in fact, many corn lovers think they have an artificial taste. For my money, old-fashioned sweet corn straight out of the field is still tops.
The best time to eat corn on the cob is middle to late summer. Corn is grown almost everywhere, and the best place to get it is at farm stands or produce markets where corn is delivered every day. We send someone up to Smith's Farm every morning at 6 A.M. to pick up corn from Wally, who has been supplying Napolitano's for more than thirty years.
Look for a husk that's firm, fresh, and green-looking. Don't strip it; just look at the tassel or silk. On really fresh corn, the tassel will be pale and silky, with only a little brown at the top, where it's been discolored by the sun. Also try holding the ear in your hand: if it's warm, it's starting to turn to starch; if it's still cool, it's probably fresh. Although producers have fewer problems with worms now, don't worry if you spot a worm or two. The worms know what they're doing--they go after the sweetest ears. And since they usually eat right around the top, you can just break that part off.
The short answer is don't; just eat fresh corn right away. But if you must, store it in the refrigerator.
A lady came in the store one day last summer and told me, "I cook corn so long it almost starts to pop, and it's still tough." I said, "That's because you're cooking it so long!" Never overcook fresh, sweet corn. It only needs a few minutes' cooking time. To boil it, bring the water to a boil before dropping in the shucked ears. If the ears are too long for the pot, don't cut them with a knife, which tends to crush the kernels; just break them in two with you hands. Let the water return to a boil, and boil hard for three to four minutes. Remove immediately and serve: don't let the corn stand in the water.
To microwave corn, shuck it, spread with butter if you wish, cover closely with plastic wrap or waxed paper, and microwave on full power (100 percent) about 2 1/2 minutes per ear.
Corn is also great cooked on the grill. To prepare, pull down the husks but don't detach them and remove the silks. Spread some butter and salt on the kernels, then pull the husks back up and twist closed. Grill the ears for about fifteen minutes, turning them often.
If you've got corn that's two or three days old, you can add it to soups or use it to make creamed corn, fritters, or spoon bread. Add it to seafood chowder or other soups, or make corn relish with it--there are plenty of ways to prepare it.
Fresh Corn & Tomato Relish
Other recipes from Produce Pete.