Saturday, August 1, 2009

Incredible Corn!

We didn't intend to start off Eat Local! month by doing so in such a down-home grand style but that's just what we did. All morning we husked corn at Melvin and Anna's farm and for noon dinner we had, well, yes, corn! But we also had a squash casserole I brought (recipe below, using local vegetables), fresh homemade bread that their daughter Grace had made, thick and juicy slices of heirloom tomatoes from their garden, as well as two kinds of melon, also their own (a musk melon and a yellow-fleshed watermelon). PHOTO: Eli chomps on a raw ear of corn!

The corn itself is the "Incredible" variety and very sweet with pale butter-colored kernels. Melvin said it is still just a bit early and our batch was more like creamed corn in texture when we cut it off the husks (but we'll take it!). Perhaps as it matures a bit more the kernels will be more yellow. Melvin planted many rows a few weeks apart so they will. We intend to freeze 50 quarts or so for our chest freezer: enough for our family and for Melvin and Anna, too. [Anna will also can some as well.] A farm wagon load full yielded 18 quart bags ready for the freezer and enough for six people to eat their fill at dinner (several dozen by the looks of it). We had it husked, cooked, cut and in bags by our noon meal (in three hours time). The day was less humid than it has been this week and the morning hours perfect for getting the job done.

Melvin and our son Henry, who has learned to drive a team of horses, even had time to deliver musk melons to the produce station at South Fork Produce–a 10-mile round trip by horse and wagon. Anna had also gone through the bushels of corn first to pick out the best ears (eg. those with minimal insect or critter intrusion, if any) for the produce stand, a communal business effort in the summer, and bagged them up into several five-dozen bags. After that we were able to begin our husking–Temple, Eli and myself–while Anna got the kettles ready in her walk-out cellar canning kitchen.

Cantaloupes have not fared as well this summer because of cooler, rainier weather here in Kentucky. Meanwhile, August is the start of watermelon season.

Barbara Kingsolver writes in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle–A Year of Food Life that "corn (is) sweetest if you essentially boil (it) alive." (Isn't everything?) This book, which I've been delighting in all summer long, is a testament to how we can live and eat locally if we truly set our minds–and gardens–to doing so. You can even eat locally without having a garden if you support your local farmer. In addition to Kingsolver's observations about the food we eat, and the cycle of their year, in her luminous prose, there are recipes and musings from her husband and daughter. To succeed in their mission to go entirely "local" for one year, they all had to participate. It is something I have been striving to do more for my family as I try to go to the box stores less. Summer is the ideal time to begin this mission and having a pantry, root cellar and/or chest freezer also suitably arms one for this endeavor. [All of that said, I will not ignore the lovely trucked-in citrus and bananas this winter in all of their colorful tropical glory.]

Meanwhile, our corn haul, in the freezer six hours after being picked, couldn't be more fresh. This is how we went about it and I figure it is a ten step process–from corn to can (or freezer bag)–as seen below:

1. Pick the corn in the field (or at the produce market). [Thanks to Melvin–he had picked a wagon load full by 9am when we arrived–and thank you Hazel (left) and Charlie (right) who certainly helped, too.]

2. Husk corn.

3. Rub corn silk off of ears–I found that a white cotton dish towel gently applied works well for silk removal.
4. Cut out any wormy tops–this corn is not sprayed and we do not mind the worms here and there, especially if it means chemical-free.

5. Wash corn ears in sink. [Anna's divided sink–into three sections–works well for this kind of task.]

6. Steam corn ears in large pot for 5 minutes.

7. Cool down cooked corn ears in sink.
8. Cut corn from cobs into large bowl.
9. Put corn in quart bags.

10. OPTIONAL: Chill quart bags of corn on sheet on cement cellar floor before taking home to chest freezer.

If you can the corn in a pressure cooker, it would add a few more steps or replace them (eg. jar washing and lid sterilizing, as well as canning time). Freezing it seems to be the best way to preserve its fresh flavor (and besides, I fear pressure canners).

We will have a few more corn-huskings and freezings before the season is over and keep Anna and Melvin's corn handy in our freezer for when they need it. I've ordered 35 more Cornish X meat birds that will arrive in mid-September that we will butcher altogether in early November (to also freeze on our ridge). It is true that many hands make light work–and more fun with friends and family. Even the "farm yard special" puppy Schnoofler, brother to our puppies, enjoyed chomping on a few ears. I was reminded that it was a year ago this weekend that I met Anna and Melvin, when we arrived from New Hampshire, tired and weary. Temple had already met them but I hadn't had the pleasure yet. Now I can't imagine ever not knowing them. It's just like that with true friends, isn't it?

The other day Anna and I were in our local Goodwill in Somerset. You never know what you might find. In addition to an old vintage half-apron with rickrack for 0.75 cents I picked up a 1999 issue of Southern Living for a quarter. This particular issue was testament to the not-to-distant golden years when magazines were thick with advertisements and thicker still with recipes. I went through the issue before I went to sleep and came upon this recipe for "Savory Squash." It occurred to me, while Anna hadn't asked, that it would be nice if we brought something for the noon dinner. [It was also a joy to put the meal together for her, as she was so much better at taking the corn off the cob. So I helped to husk and got the meal and did the dishes while Anna cut the corn off and juggled around all of the ears from sink to kettle to sink to bowl. I bagged the corn in between.]

I liked the idea of this dish as I had squash to use and also knew that I had sour cream and shredded cheese in the fridge. I was pleased to even find some cornflakes in the back of the cereal cupboard this morning. The whole thing took about 30 minutes to prepare this morning before heading out the door and I baked it just before our noon meal after topping it with the cornflake/butter mixture (you could also use bread crumbs). PHOTO, above: Henry crumbles up the cornflakes in a sealable plastic bag.

Savory Squash

As found in "Weeknight Standbys," page 225, Southern Living, May 1999 [from Valerie Hallman, Casseroles Etc., Hoover, Alabama]
  • 10 to 12 large yellow squash, sliced (I used a few zucchini but it would be better using all yellow squash)
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 (8-ounce) container sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper (I always use more)
  • 1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 2 cups cornflakes cereal, crushed
  • 3 Tbsps. butter, melted
  1. Cook squash and onion in boiling water to cover 20 minutes; drain well, pressing between paper towels. [NOTE: while squash was boiling I sautéed the onion in a bit of oil as opposed to steaming.]
  2. Stir together squash mixture, sour cream, salt, and pepper. Spoon into lightly greased 13x9 inch baking dish. Top with cheese. Stir together cornflake crumbs and melted butter; sprinkle over casserole.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. YIELD: 8 to 10 servings.

1 comment:

Tipper said...

Never had that variety of corn-but it looks yummy!