Stretching the rewards of sweet corn

A little chill in the air is refreshing after a sweaty summer, and the fireworks of autumn foliage make up for the loss of greenery. But it’s hard to romanticize the loss of sweet corn. Unlike vining tomatoes and cucumbers, which bear over months, a cornstalk’s season is a brief moment of ripeness.

This year we turned moments into weeks by planting four varieties that matured in succession. But then only the last one was left, its ears threatening to turn starchy if we didn’t gobble it all up right away. There’s nothing wrong with gorging on corn, because you haven’t had time to get sick of it before it’s gone. But I still freeze some for winter eating.

(iStockphoto/ISTOCKphoto) - Corn in husk

Corn turns mushy if frozen on the cob and takes up too much space in the freezer. Better to remove the kernels now. Like any vegetable, corn must be blanched first by dropping it into boiling water to keep certain enzymes from breaking down the cells too much. But beware the tables that tell you how long to blanch it. Ten minutes, or even five, is way too long for corn, which cooks very quickly. (At its tender peak you can even eat it raw.) Start timing when you drop the ears into the pot — not too many at a time — then remove them with tongs after a minute or two and plunge them into a sink of ice water to prevent further cooking.

I recently learned a great trick for cutting off kernels, a job that normally spews them all over the kitchen. You put an angel food cake pan on the counter and hold the corn ear upright with its pointed end poked into the pan’s central cone. The kernels are easily sliced downwards with the stroke of a sharp heavy knife or cleaver, and fall neatly into the pan. Even if you never make angel food cake, it is worth getting the pan for this purpose.

Corn goes through several stages of ripeness. The first and most perfect one is when the kernels have just plumped up and exude a milky sap when you poke them with your fingernail. But the plant wants to make a tough, durable seed that will survive the winter in a dry, hardened state. The middle stage in between, when the kernels are starchy and a bit chewy, is fine for dishes like shepherd’s pie and succotash, which are cooked for a long time. (I’ve even dried corn for winter cooking.)

When you’re using starchy corn, either for freezing or eating fresh, it’s worth pressing out the inner part of the kernel and leaving the tough outer part on the cob. This is done by slicing down the center of each row, then scraping out the luscious, sweet, creamy, center with a downward thrust of the back side of that heavy knife. This takes much more strength than just cutting off the kernels, and a corn-cutting tool — a flat, metal bar with teeth — will spare you a case of carpal tunnel syndrome if you’re putting up lots of corn. You’ll find it at places that sell old-timey kitchen stuff, when you’re shopping for that angel food cake pan.

More : Read more about growing your own food .

Damrosch is a freelance writer and the author of “The Garden Primer.”

 
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