Corn Memories

whenever i eat fresh local corn in mid july i'm always astonished by the sweetness and earliness of the harvest.growing up in ny out of season corn was perceived as a 'vegetable.' it was starchy and not very crunchy and my little brother wouldn't even touch it if my mother didn't cut it off the cob. the real corn happened toward the end of august at my uncle nat's farm in the berkshires. no one would have referred to it as "eat your vegetables." it was CORN: fragrant, sweet little kernels that burst in your mouth--oh bliss. something to look forward to every summer.

Uncle Nat's philosophy on corn was that you start the water boiling before you go out into the field to cut the corn. he became ever more eccentric, often bringing the heating device and pot of water to the field and setting it right under the corn stalk so that the moment it was cut it could drop in, husk and all!

years later, i learned in my food studies classes that the moment corn is harvested the sugar starts turning to starch and that perhaps the most effective way to keep its full sweetness is by microwaving it which quickly destroys the enzyme that converts the sugar to starch.

i've tried many ways to make corn including the microwave. (my husband didn't like the microwave bc it softens the cob which he likes to chew--wisely so as much flavor is in the cob and in fact it's a great flavoring agent for chowders--remove it before serving.)

grilling corn can be excellent--the caramelizing sugar giving a delicious edge to the sweetness. but it can also toughen the delicate corn kernels if the heat is too high. ultimately, my favorite method for best texture and truest corn flavor comes from uncle Nat: never salt the water--it toughens the corn. as you're husking the corn, put a few of the paler husks (the ones closer to the kernels) into the boiling water. husk the corn shortly before cooking it. place it in the boiling water and simmer covered for 4 to 6 minutes depending on the size of the kernels. if in doubt, lift one out with tongs and pierce a kernel with a cake tester or wooden skewer. if i were to try to improve on this beautifully simple technique i might add some dekerneled cobs to the water sort of on the principle of flavoring the corn with more of itself! i suggested this type of thing to proctor and gamble years ago when asked how to make chocolate cake more chocolaty. one of my suggestions was to store the chocolate cake in a room filled with chocolate. chocolate so readily absorbs other aromas it would be absorbing more of itself! another of my suggestions was to eat the cake in the same chocolate room as one tastes what one smells. maybe uncle Nat had an inspiration there--cooking the corn in the field and eating it on the spot! but i was never witness to his doing that.

2017: My now preferred method comes from Amanda Hesser, Food52. She puts the husked corn in the pot with cold water and brings it to a boil. They she removes it from the heat and lets it sit. Amazingly it does not continue to cook so it can wait until you are ready to eat it!