Knee high by the Fourth of July
by Robert Booz
The first summer job I worked was picking and selling corn. The farm belonged to a woman who worked with the mother of my childhood best friend. The woman belonged to one of the old farming families in town, and though she worked at a veterinarian’s clinic, every year she dutifully planted her family’s acreage with row upon row of sweet corn. She had recruited my friend and his older sister to manage her small roadside farm stand. I turned twelve or thirteen that summer and wasn’t about to spend even a portion of it without my best friend, so I became part of the crew. Every weekday we rode our bikes down to the farm and collected a quarter apiece for the ears of corn. I don’t remember how much we made on an average day, but we had fun enjoying the occasional tractor ride and playing in the ancient dairy barn. Of course, we were free to bring home as much corn as we could carry.
We have Mother Nature to thank for bringing us sweet corn. Sweet corn first occurred as a natural genetic mutation in field corn, the corn we still grow and let dry in the husk to use for things like hominy, cornmeal and animal feed. Native Americans noticed this mutation and saved the seeds to perpetuate the delicious results. The Iroquois first presented European settlers with sweet corn, and like many things from the New World, it spread globally from there.
My favorite way to eat corn remains simply thrown on a grill to steam in its husk and, once shucked, slathered with butter and salt, a technique I picked up in earnest that summer I worked at the farm stand. When cooked like this, after it’s been freshly picked, the corn doesn’t need to be soaked in water before grilling as most recipes suggest. If I want to get fancy, I’ll brush the butter around the corn with a bunch of garden thyme. Alternatively, some friends of ours that can’t eat dairy like to replace the butter with mayonnaise, a decidedly indulgent but delicious choice.
There’s no reason to stop with corn on the cob. Corn has a flavor all its own, an earthy sweetness, that complements all manner of dishes and, I think, the mood of late summer itself. I love simple creamed corn with barbecued chicken and fresh slices of juicy watermelon. Or a snack of corn salsa for a refreshment after a long, hot, August day.
I also always try to put up some sweet corn for those cold winter days when I need a reminder of summer. Besides freezing bags of kernels, I make a dairy-free corn chowder base that I can freeze in pints and defrost in a pan, whisking in fresh cream at the very end. It makes for a great lunch. No matter what you choose to do with it, when you’re sitting flush with delicious summer sweet corn, the options seem limitless.