Press-Republican

Columns

September 8, 2013

Local sweet corn is hard to beat

It’s the time of year when most gardeners are sharing an abundance of tomatoes, cucumbers and summer squash. It’s also sweet corn season. And who doesn’t enjoy fresh-picked sweet corn on the cob? The fresher it is, the better it tastes. I know gardeners who start boiling the water before they pick the corn.

I find it exciting to stop at a farmstand to buy a dozen ears that I know were growing earlier that day. Sweet corn is a tasty treat and an incredible value. One medium-size ear has about 75 calories and just 1 gram of fat. Corn is a good source of carbohydrates, food energy, vitamin A, minerals, protein and dietary fiber.

Most growers plant several varieties with each requiring a different number of days to mature or plant it over several weeks rather than all at once to extend the harvest.

I look for husks that are firm, fresh and green and tassels that are pale, silky and showing just a little brown. If the ears are cool to the touch, the corn is most likely fresh. A few worms in the silk are not necessarily a turn off, either. As my mom used to say, “They know which ears are the sweetest.”

Cooked sweet corn can be added to cornbread and corn muffins for flavor and texture. And the kernels can be creamed or used in relishes, soups and chowders, fritters, succotash and pudding. Corn can also be fermented to make bourbon whiskey.

Corn is the largest and perhaps the single most important crop in the United States. Worldwide, it is second only to rice. American farmers plant more than 95 million acres and harvest well over 10 billion bushels of corn annually. People consume only a small percentage.

Nearly two thirds is used for feeding animals. Some is dried and ground into meal. Even more is processed to make cornstarch, corn oil and corn sweeteners such as syrup, dextrose and fructose, commonly used in the production of jams and jellies, condiments, candies, beverages and other value-added products. About one quarter of the harvest is exported.

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