July 24, 2010
On my way home from Berkshire Wordfest today, I passed a farmstand selling corn. Since I’d just been talking about my mother, I couldn’t help stopping to buy a few ears.
Corn was Mom’s great culinary triumph; nobody made it better. This was because Mom had a farmer who knew exactly what she liked – the youngest, smallest, whitest ears – and he went out to the field and picked them when she called. Mom would put down the phone, put a pot of water on to boil, and hurry over to his place. We’d shuck them quickly, and when we put them in the pot they were just minutes out of the earth. Mom never cooked them long – just a minute or so, to get them hot enough to melt the butter.
Today the farmer looked puzzled when I said that I was looking for the smallest ears, but he obligingly went through the pile, looking for what he called “the puny ones.” Most farmers leave the ears on the stalk too long, so that the kernels swell up until they’re starchy (my mother called that “horse corn”). When I stripped the ears I was happy to see that the kernels were pearly and immature. I dropped them into boiling water for a minute, slathered them with butter, sprinkled salt on top. Then I sat down and ate three ears, all by myself.
They weren’t as good as Mom’s. But they made me happy.
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One of my vivid memories of Wilton was a corn party your mother had. Mim purchased bushels of it, and then called all her friends to come over. Corn was the star. We ate far more than three ears each that day. Sweet and delicious.
This makes me smile because that’s the way I like my corn, too.
I couldn’t agree with you more! I grew up in Wisconsin, but when my family moved to Illinois, my mom’s friend had a corn field to stretch as far as the eye could see. We’d eat a hybrid of white and gold corn, I think called “bread and butter” picked right out of the field ~ so delicious, it didn’t need any butter or s&p.
Moving East, my most valuable tip came from James Beard (he was a loyal attendee to The Vista Hotel’s American Harvest restaurant regional food festivals when I was PR Director). Cook the corn in just enough water to cover, add a little milk and cook for no longer than three minutes. The milk exudes the most sweetness from the corn and no seasoning is necessary. Totally delicious!
I have sweet memories of what your Mom MIGHT have considered “horse corn”. Maybe. My mom would test the corn while it was raw, before she bought it, (to make sure it was sweet), at the Farmer’s Market that was located underneath the Interstate bridge in Charleston, WV. This was in the early 1980’s, before anything “Foodie”-ish had taken off in our neck of the woods.
My memories are of sweet corn, freshly brewed ice tea, and BLT sandwiches made from still warm home grown tomatoes from the Farmer’s Market. At the time, I thought my Mom was hopelessly old fashioned.
Now, I think my Mom was a foodie, before her town was smart enough to know what a foodie was.