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Corn

IN THE September 10 ISSUE

FROM THE 2011 Articles,
andContributors,
andFood Fun,
andMargaret Mendel
SECTIONS

by Margaret Mendel

There is a coupon for the Reedley Sandwich Shop at the end of this article.

I spent most of my youth on a farm so corn and I go way back.

Every year my mother planted a huge garden, almost an acre, and half of that was always corn.

When my sisters and I were nine and ten years old it became our job in late summer to follow mom into the steamy pathways between the rows of corn. My sisters and I each dragged a huge metal bucket, kicking up dust, while we filled those heavy containers with the ears of corn mom said were ‘ready’.

Once the corn stalks were picked clean and our buckets filled, we made our way back to the house. Next we quickly stripped the husks off the ears of corn.

The outer husks would still be warm from the summer sun. Even the silky hair that grows under the brittle outer leaves was warm. But the corn kernels were cool in our hand.

Mom then hurriedly plunged the naked ears of corn into boiling water, blanching them for no more than four minutes to seal in the juices. Then she brought the steaming corncobs to the table where my sisters and I were poised with sharp knives.

Our job now was to cut the corn off the cob, careful not to cut too deeply into the tough part of the cob. We’d then scrape the cob until every bit of kernel meat had been removed from cob.

Scrapping the corncob was the messiest part of the job. If we did not hold the knife just right corn juice shot out across the table. But no matter how carefully we worked, nuggets of corn ended up in our hair and on our clothes. Some times we’d find little splatters of corn on the walls, and even on the ceiling.

But we kept cutting and scraping, filling large mixing bowls of what my sisters and I thought must be at least a million kernels of corn by the end of the day.

Mom would then scoop up cups full of corn, dump the kernels into plastic containers and quickly put them into the freezer. She knew timing was essential in processing the corn to maintain flavor, insuring that we’d have that sweet taste of summer all winter long.

Corn is an ancient food and dates back to 4500 BC to the pre-Inca cultures of Peru. It is believed that corn developed from a hybrid of two wild grasses, neither particularly productive.

From Peru, corn gradually spread northward into Mexico, where it became a staple for the Mayan and Aztec empires. The use of corn then spread still farther north along the Mississippi Valley and into what eventually became the American Southwest.

Today there are an estimated 400,000 corn growers in the USA producing four different grades of corn.

-Sweet corn, the variety most easily recognized on our dinner tables, is sold either as corn on the cob or prepared industrially by canning or freezing. There are two types of sweet corn, yellow and white, yellow being the most robust in flavor.

-Food grade corn used to make corn meal for corn bread and polenta, and corn tortillas.

-Industrial grade corn is used for feeding livestock, and for making cornstarch and corn syrup.

-Ornamental or decorative grade corn is only used for display and ornamentation.

It’s interesting to note that the kernels of corn are actually seeds.

The starchy quality of corn does not necessarily indicate the age of the corn but rather the length of time since the vegetable has been picked. Therefore, corn needs to be either cooked or refrigerated immediately after picking.

Once an ear of corn has been plucked from the stalk, the sugar in the kernels quickly converts to starch and the kernels deteriorate in quality, turning dry and pasty. It is this conversion of sugar to starch that destroys the sweet flavor of the corn kernels.

GRILLING CORN

Grilling corn is probably one of the oldest ways of preparing this vegetable.

The Inca’s put the ears of corn directly into open fires, while today we have gas grills, charcoal grills and hibachis to roast our corn.

There is no end to the variety of techniques used in grilling the perfect ear of corn. There are those who insist on grilling corn with the husks still on, and most, but not all agree that the best results come when the vegetable, husk and all, is soaked in water. The soaking time can vary, depending on personal taste, from twenty minutes to twenty-four hours. The reason for soaking is to insure that there is moisture around the corn during the grilling.

For the juiciest kernels corn should not be grilled more than ten minutes on one side, then turned and cooked for another five or ten minutes on the other side.

Some people prefer corn that has been shucked and placed directly on the grill. The timing is crucial when done this way so the grill can leave those wonderfully nutty scorched strips across the vegetable.

BOILED OR STEAMED

Some cooks never salt the water when cooking corn because they believe salt makes the corn tough, and instead, they put a pinch of sugar in the cooking water.

Another method of boiling corn on the cob is to blend a mixture of half milk, half water to help seal the moisture and juices in the kernels.

But most cooks who boil corn on the cob agree that corn should not be cooked more than eight to ten minutes as the vegetable becomes too starchy and ruins its characteristically sweet juiciness.

CONFETTI SALAD

1 cup of corn cut off the cob (Or thawed frozen corn and even a good brand of commercially canned corn is a passable substitute for the fresh corn.)
1 cup black beans (Fresh cooked or canned beans, drained of liquid and rinsed well.)
1 mango, peeled and diced into small chunks
¼ small red onion, diced to the size of corn kernels
1 Tablespoon fresh mint, finely chopped (Or 1 teaspoon dried mint. Mint tea, if you have it in the cabinet, can be used instead of purchasing dried mint in the herb and spice section of the super market.)

BASIC VINAIGRETTE

¼ cup Balsamic Vinegar
¼ to ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup extra Virgin Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Combined the first five ingredients and set aside. Prepare the vinaigrette by thoroughly mixing together the Balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard then slowly whisk in the oil until the mixture is a creamy consistency. Just before serving add the vinaigrette to the vegetables and mix well.

BASIC CORN BREAD

1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted before measuring (For gluten free corn bread substitute an all-purpose gluten free flour.)
¾ cup corn meal
2 Tablespoons sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 of cup milk
1 egg, well beaten
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

It is best to prepare the pan first. Turn on oven to 425 degrees, grease a 9X14 inch pan and place into the oven while combining the ingredients for the corn bread.

Sift flour together with the cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder and set aside. Mix together milk, beaten egg and oil.

Add the liquid to the sifted dry ingredients, mix well, but do not over mix or the corn bread will have a tough texture. It is at this point that other things can be added to the mixture to dress up the corn bread.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan. Bake at 425 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.

Possible additions to a basic cornbread:
½ cup corn kernels
Diced chili pepper, to taste
Olives, any kind, black, green or Kalamata
Strips of cooked and crumbled strips of bacon
Sliced or chopped onion, cooked or raw
Any kind of cheese, Swiss, Cheddar, Monterey

Corn bread is good served with soup in the winter. It is also a hearty accompaniment to scrambled eggs for a summer brunch. Instead of serving potatoes, rice or pasta with the pot roast or baked chicken try a slice of warm freshly made corn bread slathered with butter.

MEXICAN CORN

1 ear of corn on the cob (boiled or roasted)
1-teaspoon mayonnaise
Cayenne or chili powder
Queso Blanco, shredded and placed in a dinner plate (This is a soft mild Hispanic cheese.)

Spread mayonnaise evenly over the corn on the cob and then sprinkle with the Cayenne or chili powder. Rolled the prepared corn in the cheese and coat as evenly as possible.

Editors note: If you live in the San Joaquin Valley and take a drive in the country, you’ll see almost as many fields of corn as you do orchards of fruit trees.

Print this coupon and take to the Reedley Sandwich Shop:

Margaret Mendel was born in San Jose and has a Master’s degree in Counseling from the University of San Francisco & a Master’s of Fine Arts in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Currently residing in New York, she has had several short stories and articles published.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 thelma strawNo Gravatar September 10, 2011 at 2:52pm

I always enjoy Ms. Mendel’s articles on food and would love to sample them at once! Hope she will do a whole cookbook some day.
Thelma Straw

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2 Sharon Johnson CasteelNo Gravatar September 11, 2011 at 3:13pm

I had to smile with the your description of cutting the corn from the cob…I remember all to well doing that and the mess, but they are good memories. As always enjoyed the article and the recipes are always a bonus

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