food fest 5: some kernels about corn

TODAY WE HONOR YAM KAAX, THE MAYAN GOD OF CORN, AND HIS AZTEC COUNTERPART, CINTEOTL. We celebrate the high-summer harvest of one of our favorite, and most important, crops. Welcome to Food Fest 5, a collaboration with my dear friend Deb and the Dinner Tonight blog. Come dig in and learn some kernels about corn, have a portion of Southern Corn Pudding, perhaps, and be sure to leave behind some recipes or tips of your own while you’re here.

It Ain’t What It Used to Be
Though corn is rightly labeled native to the Americas, the original plant from which today’s corn derives, called Teosinte (technically in the genus Zea), had a long and winding journey from its roots in Southern Mexico.  Talk about the domestication of a wild thing!

The original grass had far fewer, tiny kernels, and not in anything so orderly an arrangement as today’s tightly packed heads that we call ears of corn. Have a look at these images (especially the macro ones) to see how heroic a job has been accomplished.

Starting more than 7,000 years ago, careful cultivation and selection by native peoples of the Americas and much more recently by farmers in wider reaches have yielded corn for feed, flour, (must I say fuel, too? eek!), and also our so-called “sweet corn,” the most domesticated creature of all. Fewer, bigger ears were a goal, as was reducing the hardness of the shells. Eventually so was developing a plant that could produce where it was not hardy. Today corn is the biggest U.S. crop, but what’s being grown is all those hybrids, not open-pollinated or heirloom varieties with all their genetic history and charm.

Pigs Prefer Heirlooms (So Do Smart People)
So which kind of corn can a modern gardener rely on?

According to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange of Mineral, Virginia, pigs know a good thing when they smell it. So do chickens and horses and cows:

“It is a fact that when pigs, chickens, horses, and cows are given a choice between open-pollinated and hybrid corn,” the SESE catalog states, “the animals invariably prefer the old open-pollinated varieties, possibly because of the higher protein content.”

Their wonderful catalog offers many OP varieties, and several hybrid sweet types as well.

I count 96 varieties of corn listed in Glenn and Linda Drowns’ Sand Hill Preservation Center catalog of Calamus, Iowa, among my very favorite sources for vegetable seed. Glenn, a science teacher, has a passion for some other crops of the Americas, most notably sweet potatoes and squash, and also raises heirloom poultry, and in all these cases his collection is ever-so-colorful. Not all varieties are available in any given year, but I am happy just to read about them, frankly, and know that they are all safe in his able and devoted hands.

To Freeze, or Not to Freeze?
I planned to freeze corn this year from the local farmstand, and then I read the directions, about big pots of boiling and ice water, about blanching and cooling and cutting and…

Oh, my.  I am exhausted before I begin.

Maybe I will do it the way that suited Ellen Nearing of the various “Living the Good Life” volumes, books I have read over and again the last 25 years.

“Corn need not be blanched for freezing,” she writes in her cookbook  “Simple Food for the Good Life.” Phew!  “Remove the husks and put directly into freezing bags, without any water or washing. To be eaten, put cobs in a shallow baking dish, spread with butter and bake in a hot oven for 15 to 20 minutes.”

Corn for What? For Parching!

I didn’t know there is a whole world of corn that’s ideal for dry-roasting and eating that way, called parching corn. Well, at least I didn’t know about it until I read this story in Mother Earth News.  Fascinating.

Southern Corn Pudding
Or maybe I will do absolutely nothing except get good and fat, turning some of the current local crop of corn into puddings and eating every spoonful myself.

Years ago, I used to spend the holidays with transplanted Southern friends, replete with Smithfield hams and (heaven-on-earth) corn pudding.  Naughty as it may be, it’s my favorite corn recipe other than really good cornbread (which I like with kernels in, and cooked to a crackling crispy crustiness in a well-oiled black cast-iron skillet in the oven…but more on that another time).

I don’t have my old friend’s recipe, and she has long ago moved to France and operates a world-class cooking school…where they probably don’t teach corn pudding. But a lovely must-have little cookbook by “Fannie Farmer Cookbook” author Marion Cunningham called “Lost Recipes” has one simply titled:

Southern Corn Pudding

2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 4 ears)
2 cups milk, heated
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons butter, melted
½ tsp salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 1½-quart casserole.
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Pour into casserole, and put casserole in a pan. Add enough hot water to reach halfway up the casserole sides. Bake until firm (about 45 minutes).



Now it’s your turn: Have a recipe or tip to share in the comments below? Then be sure to go visit Deb and the Dinner Tonight folks and do the same. The cross-blog event idea works best when you leave your recipe or tip and favorite links (whether to your own blog or another’s) at both host blogs, mine and Deb’s. Thanks for attending our fifth weekly Food Fest…see you next Thursday for our anything-goes Cornucopia of fresh vegetable ideas, just in time for the Labor Day weekend.

  1. diana says:

    We recently had this wonderfully simple, delicious corn salad at our friends house. I don’t have exact measurements for all the ingredients but it’s hard to mess it up.

    Cathy and Joe’s Corn Salad

    Boil 4-6 ears of corn ~8 minutes (maybe less at lower elevation, we’re at 5000 feet.) Let corn cool then cut kernels off cob and place in a bowl.

    Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with a little apple cider vinegar(start with a 1-2 TBSP, you just want a hint). Add about 1/2 of an onion finely minced and a bunch of chopped fresh basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste and mix well. It tastes better if you let it sit for a while at room temperature. Enjoy!

  2. Millie Rossman-Kidd says:

    How funny! I have been planning to make my roasted corn and black bean salad tonight for a party.

    –Grill 3-4 ears of fresh corn and cut it off the cob into a large mixing bowl.
    –Add about 3 cups cooked black beans (soaked dry beans work better and look prettier but I’ve used canned in a pinch)
    –Add 1 chopped fresh tomato

    –Saute 1 medium diced yellow onion and 1 diced red bell pepper and add that to the bowl.

    –Drizzle with olive oil about 6 tablespoons and about 2-3 tablespoon red wine vinegar. (I confess I just eyeball most of the dishes I make at home.)

    I’ll add some fresh oregano or basil, whatever looks good.

    Put it in the refrigerator to chill and don’t be afraid to add more vinaigrette as the beans will soak it up.

    Grilling the corn makes all the difference in this black bean salad. I’ve also made this in the winter by roasting frozen kernels of corn in the oven. Added bonus–you get to deglaze the baking dish with the vinaigrette.

  3. Dan Shaw says:

    Here is my mother’s foolproof and easy way to cook corn, which, for some reason, many people find too easy and resists. Fill a pot 2/3 with cold water. Add shucked ears of corn. When the water reaches the boil, it’s done. And she always lines a big bowl with a clean dish towel to serve the corn sot he extra ears can be covered and stay moist and warm for anyone who wants seconds.

  4. Kathy from Cold Climate Gardening says:

    Unfortunately, I did not read Helen Nearing (but I don’t have room in my freezer to leave it on the cob, either) so I did follow the directions, more or less. It can try your corn love, especially on a hot, humid day (which, fortunately, it was not).

  5. margaret says:

    Hello to all, and thanks for such a selection of corn salads and cooking/freezing directions. A great start.

    @Dan: I didn’t see any corn salad over there at Rural Intelligence, but there was a new homemade coleslaw (not to mention all the lowdown on everything happening in our neck of the woods right now in general). Looks delicious.

  6. Karen Putz says:

    I love to stir fry corn left over from the day before. I cook twice the number of ears and cut off the corn after dinner. The next day, I saute finely chopped sweet onion in olive oil and then stir fry the corn. Add salt, fresh pepper, a dash of garlic powder and a dab of butter before serving it.

    Dang, now I’m hungry!

  7. margaret says:

    Welcome, Karen. So nice to have you here with us this morning. Your very simple recipe does indeed sound very delicious, thanks. Now if I only had some leftover corn…

    @Gina: Was there a batter involved in the deep-fried corn? You have me very curious…

  8. margaret says:

    @Josh and Brent: I am just back from a quick trip to your blog and want to know what psychedelics you are using over there to get sky photos like that? Oh my goodness. Talk about heaven.

  9. josh & brent says:

    we had our first two ears of corn last weekend. (“butter and sugar” variety.) as they were a bit on the small side, we incorporated them in an impromptu cold salad which we picture in this blog entry (about halfway down the page):


    even more interesting than the corn in the salad was the radish seed pods…which we had never heard of before this year. letting a few radishes go unpulled leads to the most beautiful small seedpods that can be eaten raw. they have a strong radish flavor, but without the bite. (sounds oxymoronic, we know, but it’s true.)

    one other corn observation from our garden:

    because we dutifully rotate our crops, we had to put our corn in our raised beds this year. which is generally not a good idea, since they need to draw so much nitrogen from the soil to thrive.

    just for kicks, in one corn bed, we threw in a hand-full of italian pole beans in a half-hearted attempt to test out the old native american practice of planting “three sisters.”

    we suppose many people remember this from grade shool history classes, but the “three sisters” (beans, corn, and sqaush) were planted together so that the beans would grow on the corn; the bacteria on the beans’ roots would convert nitrogen from the air to the soil for the corn; and the squash would control weeds and keep the soil cool.

    we only planted 2 of the 3 sisters, but there was a noticeable difference in that bed of corn. the leaves were much darker green – indicating more nitrogen – than the other beds. and, as a bonus, the bean vines helped the corn stalks stay upright better in heavy winds.

    hooray for fifth grade u.s. history teachers everywhere!

  10. Chez US says:

    Hi Margaret,

    WE had corn cakes with Garam Masala roasted cod – check it out! http://www.chezus.com/?p=566.

    I was looking for a corn pudding recipe but could not find one that I thought sounded good, until I just read yours – I will definitely have to try it before corn is out of season!

  11. Lacey says:

    Mmm…I love corn! What a great post! My favorite way to eat corn, besides straight from the cob, is corn chowder. It’s so delicious!

  12. Cindy says:

    Your history of corn is so very fascinating and your corn pudding sounds just like a dish I remember from childhood but had no idea how to make. In fact all the recipes today are so enticing. I may be eating corn all week. Time for a trip to the Farmer’s Market.
    My contribution is a Corn Fritter recipe my Mom used to make.

  13. margaret says:

    Welcome, Sara. The little “extra” for the corn pudding sounds positively inspired. Thanks for the tip. And no additional calories (since I plan to live on corn pudding alone from here on out). Do visit with us again soon.

  14. margaret says:

    Thanks, Cindy, for the good words (oh, and by the way, I made the whole history part up…don’t believe everything you read). :-)
    And the fritters: I wondered how long it would be before someone posted my other favorite corn dish (so bad!). ChezUs came close with the corn cakes…but fritters!

  15. Sara says:

    I live for summer corn and my favorite, simplest recipe is to blanch four shucked, de-silked ears in well-salted, boiling water for three minutes. Plunge ears into ice-bath for a couple of minutes. Cut kernels from cob and add: 2 tablespoons chopped, fresh parsley, 1 large chopped tomato (with juices), 1/4 cup chopped sweet onion, salt and pepper. It’s summer in a bowl. Add cilantro if you want. Serve it as a side dish or in a lovely, yielding avocado.

    Oh, and if I make corn pudding, I steep bruised rosemary in the warm milk to add a nice herbal note to the pudding. Corn and rosemary get along very well.

  16. margaret says:

    @Min and Tammy: Me, too…if I cook corn, it’s on the grill (and I soak first in water after removing some husks but not all). Now this Tex-Mex version with the cheese…more trouble for Margaret, I think. Oh, dear.

  17. Tammy says:

    Here is a Tex-Mex version from Texas.
    Grill the corn. Roll grilled corn in melted butter. Then roll the corn in a mixture of Mayo and cayenne pepper. Then roll the corn in grated Cojito cheese.

  18. Donna says:

    I just came across a very easy recipe to freeze corn kernels:cut off the kernels from the cob, and saute about 15 minutes or until tender, in butter. Then freeze in bags or containers. I have not tried this, but sounds so easy and good, pre-buttered corn in the winter! Thanks for your great blog!

  19. Nancy says:

    Microwaving corn is a great way to cook with practically no cleanup. Shuck the corn but leave the last layer of green on the ear to cover the kernels. Put a couple of ears in the microwave and cook on high power for three minutes. Using wads of paper towel to protect your fingers because the ears are very hot, peel away the last layer of green. When cooked this way, the corn stays hot on your plate because it was heated from the inside out. Also, you’ve lost none of the sweetness to the cooking water. Enjoy!

  20. margaret says:

    Welcome, Donna. It does sound good (and butter is one of my personal Four Food Groups). Thanks for the suggestions, and please do visit again soon and share more!

    @Nancy: Good point. We have up till now forgotten the zapper. Easy indeed. I do string beans in there for a minute (love them crunchy) and baked potatoes (6 minutes). Thank you.

  21. dayna says:

    It’s my first year attempting corn. I figured the August road stands would have my staples covered, so I opted for the heirloom variety from the seed catalog, which I was so nicely gifted at Christmas.
    Tom Thumb was my choice. I thought small + popcorn would = FUN!
    So far I have one ear to count on for a pot of popped pleasure. Oh well. I found the fun was actually growing it. Now, with a little luck, I’ll have my own seeds for next year.

    At least I still have those road side stand for some recipes like these:



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