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. CORN!! Loving this week’s them. You can read how Summer Fest inspired me here:


    My recipe for Grilled Corn Salad with Lime Vinaigrette on Corn Cakes is the first thing I’ve made this year with corn b/c I’ve been too busy eating it straight off the cob. Can’t wait to look around and see what others made this week. Also loving the info here. THANKS!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Alice, with your Chez-Panisse-inspired recipe. Nice to “meet you”.

      Welcome, Joseph — corn and tomato salad it is (once my tomatoes ripen!).

      Welcome also to Liam — I am fascinated to see what “creamed corn” is in your kitchen…who knew there were so many variants?

      Thanks, all, and do stop by again soon!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Ranjani. Did you say *gratin*? Oh, somebody stop me… :)

      Welcome also to Kim. I love to bbq my whole ears, too…and you seem to have selected a couple of my other favorite foods: avocado and quinoa. Yum.

      See you both soon, I hope.

  2. Kristina says:

    I’m a week late in starting Summerfest – we’re in the middle of some rotten plaster demolition to our 115 year old house so cooking takes quite a bit of forethought nowadays, especially with the heat wave we’re having. :) I LOVE the vintage pictures of corn!!! I collect vintage recipe booklets just because I love the illustrations so much.

    Here’s my entry – Fresh Corn-and-Asiago Cheese Bread Pudding:

  3. Sarah says:

    What an interesting post! And that creamed corn looks amazing . . . This time of year, I can’t help but just eat corn straight off the cob most of the time, grilled or steamed, but if I do cook with it, my favorite recipes include:


    Three Sisters Chili, and

    Green Chile Chicken Tortilla Soup

    A few have been on the blog for a while, but I couldn’t help but share them this week for SummerFest! Thank you for hosting!


  4. Michelle says:

    Thanks for the recipe and history lesson! and love the idea of leftovers over salad greens. I do this with almost everything I make — almost anything can become lunch the next day when thrown over lettuce.

  5. Hi Margaret!!

    I can’t tell you how much I have been looking forward to this!! Corn is really quite amazing – I think it is wild that after thousands of years we are still developing recipes around this wonderful food! I’ve been looking around and found lots of great new corn recipes to try – my contribution is Corn,Crab and Tomato Salad

    Can’t wait to see what else everyone comes up with!!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Nancy — so nice to “meet” you, and have your salad rich with crab meat! Enjoy your trip clicking around — I have been doing so all day to all the sites who have participated. Wonderful. See you soon, I hope.

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