Saturday, September 10, 2011

Let's Talk about Corn

Corn fields
Intellectually I know that September is the beginning of fall, but for me it's a long slow beginning with bits of summer showing up for a visit throughout the month.  One of the best things about summer is sweet corn.  Its season is coming to an end this month so it's a good idea to eat it while you can.

Corn is the largest crop grown in the U.S. - 332 million metric tons, 40% of which is used for corn ethanol.  Humans have been cultivating corn for thousands of years with its height beginning at about 1500 B.C.  Corn came into the US Southwest, the migrated to the US Northeast and up into Canada.

Corn and cornmeal are staples of many diets across the world.  As a thick porridge in Italy (polenta), Brazil (angu), Romania (mămăligă), and the US (with cornmeal mush) and in the South with grits (made from hominy).  For those of you not fortunate enough to have grown up in the South, you must remember that grits are a breakfast staple.  I cannot tell you how excited I was to find grits in downtown Oakland when I started working there - and not just grits, but perfectly prepared grits - heaven.

Hush Puppies with honey butter at Angeline's Louisiana Kitchen - Berkeley, CA
The other wondrous and necessary Southern thing to make with corn is hush puppies.  The first time I took my son for hush puppies he asked, "Mom - what're hush puppies?"  I replied, "Fried balls of cornmeal goodness, honey."  He agreed and has been devouring them at every opportunity since.  I was very pleased to find Angeline's Louisiana Kitchen here in Berkeley and even more pleased to find that they make killer hush puppies.  Plus they have Abita beer and who wants to argue with that?

Corn is the main ingredient for lots of breads that aren't made with wheat - cornbread, tortillas, atole - the list goes on.  Cornbread is also a staple in a Southern diet and is NOT made with sugar.  Ever.  Okay, some people make it with sugar, but I consider that a heresy.  I know, doctrinaire - don't start me on BBQ (I am of the Memphis sect).

Jiffy-Pop!  Totally unnecessary product, but traditional at slumber parties in my day.
Corn can be popped for popcorn.  When I was a kid, we used to make popcorn on weekend afternoons.  We popped it on the stove (and later in an electric skillet), poured it into a brown paper grocery bag folded over, and salted generously.  This would be shared as we read our books and is a fond memory.

Corn has an evil side, too.  Don't believe me?  Read The Ominvore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan - you'll never look at corn in the same way again.  It's in almost every processed food we eat with high fructose corn syrup being high on the list of unhealthy additives.  In some ways, corn has colonized us as much as we have it.

Corn on the Cob
There are so many ways to eat corn, but my favorite way is the most simple - corn on the cob with lots of butter.  There are many different ways prepare corn on the cob, but my favorite is to cook it in the microwave.  It's fast, it's simple, and it cooks the corn perfectly every single time.

You rinse it off with husk and silk attached.  Place in the microwave on the carousel or on a large platter, uncovered.  Here are cooking times:

1 ear - 2 min.
1 ear (small oven) - 3 min.
2 ears - 5 min.
2 ears (small oven) - 8 min.
4 ears - 9 min.
6 ears - 14 min.

Be careful when you take the corn out of the microwave to husk - it'll be very very hot.  I usually use a folded dish towel to help me survive the heat.  Just peel down the husk and silk to the stem and cut it off with knife.  Serve with butter and eat and eat and eat.

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  1. We microwave corn too -- in fact it's the only veggie we routinely cook in the microwave.

    I adore polenta (no matter what the name). And You're right about reading Pollan, who should be required reading for everyone.

  2. I love fresh corn; my favorite variety is the Silver Queen we get around here (all white kernels), and next favorite is the bi-color, yellow and white.

  3. love cooking it in the microwave!
    the lack of fresh corn and Jersey tomatoes are the only things I miss about the end of summer.

  4. Great post, I really enjoyed learning more about corn.


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