summer fest: a vintage look at fresh corn

I WAS TEMPTED TO POST A RECIPE FOR ETHANOL to celebrate Corn Week—Part 2 of our third annual Summer Fest recipe swap—but I don’t have the secrets to ethanol’s success figured out, sad to say. Rather than look forward, then, I’m looking back: with a vintage slideshow of our corn-filled American history, and a homey creamed corn that basically contains (you guessed it) mostly just cream and corn. The recipe’s as American and at least as old as the corn-motif Bennington porcelain pitcher (top) that lives here with me—sharing my view of acres of rolling cornfields.

First, a word about Summer Fest, which I co-founded in 2008: It’s a giant round-robin of sharing themed to a single garden-fresh ingredient each week. Get all the details and latest links below, just before the comments, and stock up on delicious ideas from around the web—or add your own.

I READ UP ON CREAMED CORN this week (as did many of my Summer Fest colleagues—see the links below), and found a lot of variations included cornstarch or flour as thickeners, sugar, and even Parmesan cheese or bacon or any manner of extras. Once I shucked the fresh-picked corn from down the road, I thought: I can’t do that to this beautiful stuff, and went the ultra-simple route. Even adding cream seemed like gilding the lily. But I did.

No-Frills Creamed Corn

Thinly slice ¼ cup or so of shallots or small onions;
Sautée in 1-2 Tbsp. of butter till soft;
Add kernels cut from 5 ears of fresh sweet corn (about 2½ cups);
Add ½ cup or so of cream (depending on the volume of kernels, but start there);
Cook gently until tender, and the juices and cream thicken;
Add salt and pepper to taste;
Add fresh parsley or other minced herbs as desired.

Note: I like it even better Day 2, cold, over a bed of tender salad greens. Heavy cream will (of course) yield a thicker result than light.

Corn in Historical Imagery

MY VINTAGE PITCHER GOT ME THINKING how much a part of our heritage corn has been, and so I set off again to the Library of Congress. The show below includes a mere sampling of thousands of relics—from the Victorian era Corn Palace in South Dakota, above (its facade covered in 3,500 bushels of corn, or so the caption says) to a Seneca chief whose name translates as Corn Plant, to surprisingly social shucking-day images.

Click on the first thumbnail to start, then toggle from slide to slide using the arrows below the photo. Enjoy.

When to Pick: Determining Peak Corn Readiness

TO BE ITS MOST TENDER, corn has just a few days of peak readiness…so if you pick too late that can affect the thickness of the outer covering of each kernel and add to toughness. The time to pick is right as the silk turns fully dark and withers; a few days too late and the quality declines. Early morning or evening picking is best, when temperatures are relatively cool.

The top kernels will be juicy and fully formed, and the liquid in them will neither be sticky or thick, nor watery…but more like milk. The peak moment is about three weeks after the plants tassel.

More corn tips, and a corn pudding recipe, are here.

How You Can Join in Summer Fest:

So now it’s your turn: Have a recipe or tip that fits any of our weekly themes? Starting with our posts of Wednesday, July 28, for five Wednesdays, you can contribute in various ways, big or small.

Contribute a whole post, or a comment—whatever you wish. It’s meant to be fun, viral, fluid. No pressure, just delicious. The possibilities:

Simply leave your tip or recipe or favorite links in the comments below a Summer Fest post on my blog, and then go visit my collaborators and do the same.

The cross-blog event idea works best when you leave your recipe or favorite links (whether to your own blog or someone else’s) at all the host blogs. Yes, copy and paste them everywhere! That way, they are likely to be seen by the widest audience. Everyone benefits, and some pretty great dialog starts simmering.

Or think bigger: Publish entire posts of your own, if you wish, and grab the juicy Summer Fest 2010 tomato badge (illustrated by Matt of Mattbites.com).

The 2010 Schedule:

  • Wednesday, July 28: CUKES AND ZUKES. Read it here.
  • Wednesday, August 4: CORN.
  • Wednesday, August 11: HERBS-BEANS-AND-GREENS WEEK (any one or both/all, your choice).
  • Wednesday, August 18: STONE FRUIT.
  • Wednesday, August 25: TOMATO WEEK. How do you like them love apples?
  • And then…more, more, more if you want it (potatoes? sweet potatoes? root veggies? winter squash?). You name it.

And in case I forget what week it is, won’t somebody remind me on Twitter? Thanks. We’ll be talking it up there, too.

That’s how a Summer Fest works.

This Week’s Corn Links

  1. Debby says:

    Fabulous pitcher, Margaret! I immediately visited ebay, and found a Parian Ware Pottery Corn Pitcher–merely reminiscent of yours, but lovely, and a bargain price too. I did not buy it, but another reader might be tempted.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Karen. Nice kids! :) Glad you found us via the Tigress connection — I am enjoying her world, which I discovered this season.

      Welcome, Trish. Yes, hilarious — right? What a a lot of work, to say the least. Makes even the most ambitious Martha craft projects I witnessed at my old job seem like nothing. Thanks for the salsa! (I ate brown rice and pinto beans and barely-sauteed fresh corn kernels and regular salsa yesterday for lunch, ole!)

      See you both soon again, I hope.

  2. pam kueber says:

    oh my goodness — i LOVE that slide show! this whole week of posts is making me HUNGRY, too. – corn fed pam

  3. Kai Harper says:

    My corn dish is: sauted corn with onions, green chile, fresh basil and pinto beans…when the veggies and beans are cooked I add reduced cream.

    I’m wondering if you know of Betty Fussil who has written several books
    about corn, including the history of corn.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Kai. I do not know of the author — but thanks for the tip…will go in search of her.

      Welcome, Laura. Simple is the best; it’s the way I like to eat, especially this time of year.

      See you both again soon!

  4. Jane says:

    This has been a good year in the veggie garden but I have a mystery in the flower garden. One of my summer chores is taking care of the flowers outside our local library (Zone 5). Anyone know what could be taking ALL the white petals off our ‘White Swan’ coneflowers?

  5. JB says:

    I’m a little behind the times here. Didn’t realize SummerFest was featuring sweet corn – what perfect timing! I’m doing a week-long ode to sweet corn on http://pourhouse.wordpress.com. Looking forward to browsing the recipes listed on the blogs that have already been posted above!

  6. gayle says:

    Last week in Mn. with fresh corn. this is a great old recipe. 12 cobs of corn, cut off cob with cob put in angel food pan. Put corn in 9 by 13 pan. Add 1 stick butter,3/4 cup cream or half and half, salt and pepper and dash sugar. bake at 350 for 45 min. Cool all the way. Bag in freezer bags in amount for you! Heat in micro or pan for next meal. Cream is decadent!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Gayle — and yes, cream is decadent! I loved every spoonful of my creamed corn last week and you are right — good to make more to freeze, thank you.

  7. ann says:

    Corn is not meant to be made into ethanol. Have you checked economy lately? Even if it is only buying seed, plants, or farm produce, many items are priced beyond my means. Ethanol is cost prohibitive at any time but in these times of economic restraint and government spending borrowed money, any recipe for wasting this wonderful grain would be flaunting affluence. I know of no ethanol plant that has been successful but do know about CORN PALACE. Cream and Corn are perfect partners.

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