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The Farmer and the Foodie: Corn cravings

July/Aug. 2011 California Country magazine

Fire up the grill for a summertime favorite




The farmer: Glen Ikeda grows fruit on 40 acres in Auburn with his brother, Steve. They also manage their family's markets in Auburn and Davis (www.ikedas.com).
The foodie: For food writer Gwen Schoen, food is about anticipating and celebrating the seasons.

A full parking lot at a roadside produce stand is a good indication that local corn is in season.

Farmer: There are many varieties of corn, but most consumers just think of them as yellow or white.

Foodie: Personally, I prefer yellow corn because I like its starchy flavor. To me, white corn is almost too sweet.

Farmer: White corn outsells yellow four to one, so I guess you are in the minority there!

Foodie: When I shop for corn, I see customers stripping off the husk and often they return the stripped corn back to the pile. I always wonder what they are looking for.

Farmer: They are checking for missing kernels and mature kernels. Stripping off the husk does dry out the corn, so the best thing to do is just bend back the tops and take a peek.

Foodie: I'm rarely disappointed, but what should I look for?

Farmer: You don't want immature kernels, which are shiny and small. If kernels are too large, the corn will be tough and starchy. I look for well-rounded kernels that are not flat. Flat kernels indicate starchy flavor and less sugar. Poke a fingernail in one kernel to see if it is filled with juice. The tassels (silks) and the flags, which are what we call the long, green leaves, should be fresh, not dry. The cut ends should be white, not brown.

Foodie: I love seeing those roadside signs announcing good deals on corn. How does the farmer make any money selling it so cheap?

Farmer: For sweet corn, growers harvest one ear per stalk, so it is a labor-intensive crop. When you see ads five-for-a-dollar, you know the farmer isn't making much profit. Still, people will drive a long distance to buy good corn, so it is a good crop to attract customers to your farm stand or store.

Foodie: My mouth is watering just thinking about grilled corn. When can I fire up the grill?

Farmer: The season begins in May in the desert regions of California. Corn needs heat to grow and mature, so as soon as it heats up in the rest of the state, growers begin to harvest elsewhere. The season usually peaks in September, but some California farmers continue to harvest until the first part of December.

Try it! Grilled corn on the cob

Cooking corn on the outdoor grill adds a wonderful smoky flavor. You can grill it in the husks or wrapped in aluminum foil.

To grill corn in the husk, gently peel back the husk toward the stem end. Remove the silk and pull the husks back toward the tips so that they cover the kernels. Use kitchen string to tie the husks in place at the tip. Fill a large container with cool water and submerge the corn in the water for 15 minutes to an hour. This soaking time will help the corn to steam as it is grilled.

Heat the grill to medium hot. Remove the corn from the water and drain it well. Place the corn on the grill. Grill for about 15 minutes, rotating as needed to keep it from becoming too charred. Serve with lots of flavored butter.

To grill the corn in foil, remove the silk and husks and discard. Rinse the ears in water, then brush them with butter. Wrap the ears in heavy foil. You can wrap them individually or in packs of four ears. Place the prepared corn on a medium grill and cook for about 15 minutes, turning the foil packets frequently so that the corn heats evenly on all sides.

Making butter even better

When it comes to celebrating summer, there's no better combination than corn on the cob with plenty of fresh butter. Apparently lots of folks agree, because California dairy farmers and processors produce 500 million pounds of butter a year.

From a foodie point of view, it's practically impossible to improve the flavor of butter. You can, however, change it up a bit by adding some fresh herbs and spices.

Making flavored butter is easy. Just start with 1/2 cup of unsalted butter softened to room temperature. Blend in any combination of your favorite spices. A general rule is to add about a teaspoon of spices or herbs per stick of butter. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Herb butter: Add 1/2 tsp. minced fresh marjoram and 1/2 tsp. thyme or fresh rosemary.
  • Chili butter: Add 1 tsp. chili powder.
  • Dill butter: Add 4 tbsp. minced, fresh dill and 1/8 tsp. nutmeg.
  • Horseradish butter: Add 1 tbsp. prepared horseradish.
  • Lemon butter: Add 2 tbsp. lemon juice and a pinch of pepper.

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