Sweet Corn Season

Posted: 8/17/2012

Posted Aug 17, 2012

-Is summer even possible without fresh corn?

There are those first tender local ears snapped up at the farmers market or grocers, the giant roasted corn-on-the-cob sold at the State Fair, and the butter-slathered corn served at any number of backyard barbecues and holiday weekend picnics.

So enjoy sweet corn while it's in season. And when you've had enough straight off the cob, try some of these recipes for different takes on a summer favorite.


-- Corn is considered America's first crop. Native to North America, corn was cultivated in what's now Mexico more than 6,000 years ago. Corn still ranks as the No. 1 crop in the United States, prompted by demand for corn for fuel (ethanol) as well as food. Corn is also used as fiber and in bioplastics.

-- Production is on the rise. In 2009, U.S. farmers produced 13.1 billion bushels of corn, an all-time record and 20 percent more than was produced in 2000. Less than 1 percent is sweet corn -- the type people like to eat. An estimated 80 percent of the crop goes to feed livestock in the United States and overseas.

-- A lot of grain is packed into every ear. A typical ear of sweet corn holds 800 kernels in 16 rows. A pound of corn equals about 1,300 kernels. Sweet corn averages 48 ears per bushel, a traditional measure the size of a round laundry basket equal to 9.3 gallons. In 2009, U.S. corn farmers averaged almost 165 bushels per acre.


To shuck or not to shuck?

During summer, at farmers markets and in grocery stores, shoppers go elbow to elbow over piles of sweet corn. Some customers shuck all their corn on the spot. Others yank back the husk to take a gander at the kernels.

But corn farmers advise keeping the husk on: It protects the tender kernels and keeps them moist. Fresh sweet corn starts losing sweetness as soon as it's picked, as sugar content starts turning to starch. Refrigerate the ears until you're ready to cook them.

In corn shopping etiquette, don't pull back the husk unless you intend to buy that ear. Signs of freshness are a pale green (not white or brown) stem end and silks just beginning to turn brown.

New varieties hold their sweetness a little longer, but the freshest corn is still the best.

Fresh sweet corn needs little cooking -- boil it no more than 3 minutes. Don't add salt to the water; that toughens the kernels. Avoid adding sugar, too. You want to taste the real corn flavor.

Corn may also be steamed. Put 2 inches of water in the bottom of a large pot. Arrange ears, stacking if necessary, and cover. Bring water to boil and steam the ears for five to 10 minutes.

Roast corn in the oven with its husk on, too. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Carefully pull down the husks, remove the silk and brush the kernels with melted butter. Pull the husks back up and place the ears on a baking sheet. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes.

-- Debbie Arrington

©2012 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

Visit The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) at www.sacbee.com

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