Like summer vacation for a rambunctious teen, the season for locally grown sweet corn is way too short.
Those ears of corn studded with tender, milky kernels are available for about eight weeks most summers, sometimes less. Look for them to arrive in late June or more likely July, and to be gone by early September at the latest.
Many people are content to eat corn on the cob as is, with a dab of butter or sprinkle of salt. For the more adventurous, there are ways to dress up corn on the cob or incorporate kernels cut off the cob into salads, dips and other dishes. Many of the tasty tips come from south of the border, where corn was first domesticated about thousands of years ago. In Mexico – and occasionally in north Wichita’s Hispanic neighborhood – street vendors sell corn that’s been grilled and then garnished with mayonnaise, chili powder, lime juice and more. Sour cream, cilantro, chipotle powder, Parmesan and cotija cheese (look for it in the refrigerated Hispanic food section of the supermarket) are other additions.
If that sounds messy too eat, you’re right, it is. Corn on the cob, with its tendency to dribble down chips and stick in teeth, has been the bane of etiquette guides since man first peeled off a husk to eat it. The alternative is to cut the kernels off the cooked cob. The first time you try this, it may seem like an awkward process. How do you know exactly where to cut? The answer is, you place a fairly sharp knife at the top, or bigger, end of the cob and slice just behind the kernels until they come off. Don’t worry if the kernels stick together. Once you start mixing them with other ingredients, they’ll mostly separate, or not, as nature intended. Pick away any stringy or fibrous material from the cob that’s found its way into the kernels. The milky juice released from the cob during the operation is a fine addition to most recipes.
Etiquette isn’t the only rationale for removing kernels from the cob. Those fresh kernels are a step up from most frozen corn, and a whole flight of stairs up from the canned stuff, in recipes. One of the simplest of these is to combine the kernels with table creme – the thick, slightly sour Mexican version of heavy cream (look for it near the cotija) – with cilantro, cheese and chopped jalapeno as optional additions. A richer snack or side dish is hard to imagine. Fresh kernels are also great in salsa and salads, whether it’s Texas caviar co-starring black-eyed peas, a salad with beans and chiles (again harkening back to its Central American roots) or an updated version of classic corn chowder. There’s even a corn ice cream popular in Mexico.
The biggest local grower of sweet corn is Gaeddert Farms, which is located east of Buhler and sells its corn out of familiar yellow and green stands in Wichita, Newton, Hutchinson and McPherson. Tonya Martisko and her sister, Julie Ball, run the sweet corn operation, while their husbands and family devote their time to more traditional farming. She said the sweet corn business evolved out of the family’s efforts to grow sweet corn for themselves. “It just keeps growing every year,” she said.
For the past several years, Gaeddert Farms has been growing and selling corn with white and golden kernels, since that’s what consumers seem to enjoy the most, Martisko said. The family uses a couple of different early and late varieties, planting corn every week to keep a steady supply coming during the summer. The only difference corn buyers see is that the early cobs are smaller, Martisko said.
Martisko has one big tip for buyers of sweet corn: “We tell people when you buy our corn, put it in the refrigerator right away. Don’t leave it in the car while you go to work. It’ll go sour on you.”
As for cooking, Martisko prefers to do it by dry heat, such as an oven or microwave, with the corn still in its husk. That makes removing the husk easier, she said. “I don’t boil corn anymore, I haven’t done it in years.”
She also doesn’t overcook it, saying a minute per side per ear of corn is sufficient in the microwave, or about a half-hour in a 350-degree oven. “If you overcook corn, you lose flavor and it starts to get chewy. Once you can smell it, it’s probably close to being done.”
Gaeddert’s sells a cookbook of recipes at its stands called “How Sweet It Is” for $10.
At the Kansas Grown farmers market that is held each weekend at 21st and Ridge, about a half-dozen local growers typically sell sweet corn, said Sedgwick County extension agent Bob Neier. The Old Town Farmers Market and other outdoor markets also offer sweet corn during the season.
“They’d like to have corn for you on July 4, they really shoot for that,” Neier said, noting that nature doesn’t always cooperate.
“There are quite a few different varieties and everyone has their own specialties that they say is better than anyone else’s,” Neier said.
FREEZING KERNEL CORN
Many people like to freeze sweet corn so they can enjoy it later in the year. Removing the kernels obviously saves freezer space. Here’s the method used by the family that owns Gaeddert Farms:
Husk corn, rinse cobs ears with water, than blanch ears in boiling water for 2 minutes. Place in ice water to chill. Drain and cut kernels off the cob. Store in freezer bags, flattening bags to freeze. Two ears equals about 1 1/5 cups kernels.
MEXICAN GRILLED CORN
4 ears corn
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro leaves
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 lime, juiced
Red chili powder, to taste
2 limes cut into wedges, for garnish
Remove the husks of the corn but leave the core attached at the end so you have something to hold onto. Grill the corn on a hot grill or cast iron griddle pan until slightly charred. Turn it so it gets cooked evenly all over. Mix the mayonnaise, sour cream and cilantro together. Grate the Parmesan in another bowl. While the corn is still warm slather with mayonnaise mix. Squeeze lime juice over the corn and shower with Parmesan. Season with chili powder and serve with extra lime wedges.
Source: Tyler Florence, Food Network
GAEDDERT’S CREAM CORN
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
7 1/2 cups fresh or frozen Gaeddert Farms sweet corn, drained
In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in flour until smooth. Gradually add cream, milk, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and stir for 2 minutes. Add corn and cook until hot.
Source: “How Sweet It Is” by Gaeddert Farms Sweet Corn Inc.
GAEDDERT’S FRESH CORN DIP
Raw fresh sweet corn, cut off the cob
Cooked bacon, crumbled
Feta or blue cheese, crumbed
Lime or lemon juice
Cherry tomatoes, halved
Avocado, cut into bite-size chunks
Fresh cilantro or parsley
Combine all ingredients in amounts according to your own taste. Serve with garlic toast bagel crisps.
Source: “How Sweet It Is” by Gaeddert Farms Sweet Corn Inc.
CORN AND BLACK BEAN SALSA
1 1/2 cups corn kernels, cut from about two ears of cooked corn on the cob
1 can (16 ounce) black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
Juice of 1 lime
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
Freshly chopped cilantro, to taste
Salt and pepper
Optional: chopped avocado, bell pepper, cucumber. Black-eyed peas can be substituted for the black beans.
Combine all ingredients. Serve with chips or as accompaniment to grilled chicken or fish. For best results, cover and allow flavors to meld for at least an hour before serving.