In Praise of Corn

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How well I remember my first sweet corn experience. I was a young boy of the inner city, invited out on a picnic by a country friend and his family. Two fresh-picked, unhusked cobs of sweet corn, were lifted from the embers of an outdoor fire. The husks were carefully and skillfully removed by my friend’s father, spread generously with butter, and presented to me on a plate as we sat at a picnic table. The sun was shining brightly on a midsummer afternoon. The kindly, attentive man showed me how to eat the corn, by picking the cob up at either end and first going down the rows with front teeth like a mower. He made it look like fun.

My first few bites were a revelation: I had never tasted anything so delicious. I looked up from the cob with wide-eyed, childish excitement. “This is GOOD!” I exclaimed, with all my heart. My friend’s father smiled broadly, as I also often do now myself these many years later, when someone bites into a cob of sweet corn I have proudly grown, just picked, and love to serve to others. To this day freshly-picked sweet corn, cooked just enough, remains my favourite food.

Back in those days, many decades ago, it was by far mostly yellow corn. Before that, white was the sweet corn of choice. Some years after my first corn experience the Ontario Seed Company (OSC) came up with a bicolour corn they called “peaches and cream.” Bicolour sweet corn soon took over the market. In my market-garden experience buyers often referred to all of it as “peaches and cream,” but there’s really only one by that name, still sold by OSC, while the many other varieties of bicolour corn go by other names. I started growing corn about 25 years ago. My favourite bicolour variety was Seneca Appaloosa. It helped me get a lot of rave reviews for my corn. Lots of people said it was the best they ever had. But Seneca Appaloosa suddenly became unavailable about 10 years ago. I’ve tried other varieties, but to my taste nothing was as good. The last few years I’ve gone back to the original peaches and cream, the old stand-by, I guess you might say.

The 2018 growing season was a challenging one for growing corn, and most other things. Spring came late, and the soil temperature was slow to warm up when it finally did arrive. Corn wants at least 21 Celsius. I took a chance and planted toward the end of May. But it got unseasonably cool for a while again and, because I use corn seed not treated with fungicide, the germination rate was poor. I planted again a week into June. But by that time a prolonged drought had set in, from the end of May to mid-August. I hand-watered the emerging corn from two, old dug wells, but still it struggled. There’s nothing like rain. An even later – second week of June — planting of a few rows of peaches and cream benefitted the most when the rains finally returned. And now, in mid-September a few more days of sun and heat are just what those rows needed to fully ripen.

Three rows of beautiful, sweet, corn-on-the-cob isn’t a bountiful crop. But it’s enough to share with friends and family, to satisfy my seasonal hunger for my favourite food, and to bring back fond memories. So, I rejoice.

Food for the soul as well as the body, that’s corn, for the boy in this old man.

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