CORN MAY be Indian food, but the name is Old World. England's corn was wheat. In Scotland and Ireland corn meant oats, and while the colonists quickly adopted the Indian's maize, they persisted in calling their staple grain what they always had. American corn was fed to livestock, milled into flour any farmer could afford, or simply dried for winter soups or popping over a fire.

The best way, then and now, to eat sweet corn is to cut, shuck and cook it immediately. No vegetable deteriorates so quickly. Its sugar turns to starch almost immediately, although hybridizers have been working to produce extra sweet varieties that convert to starch more slowly. Burpee's Sugar Sweet (89 days) promises tender kernels and sweeter taste that lasts, but needs to be planted away from other corn to prevent cross pollination. Golden Midget (60 days) and Miniature Hybrid (66 days) are small varieties while Honey and Cream (78 days) has yellow and white kernels on each ear.

Sweet corn is demanding. It requires good soil -- deep, rich loam is best.

It also takes up a lot of garden space, although you can compensate by intercropping beans and squash or cucumbers, Indian style, or planting corn between rows of spring peas, lettuce or roots. Sow seeds at least one foot apart in short, wide blocks rather than rows. Corn is wind-pollinated and produces poorly in long thin rows. You can mulch this crop and should unless your idea of summer fun is chopping weeds.

Unfortunately, corn is as popular with pests as with people. Raccoons and deer may bother suburban or country gardeners, but worms and borers can be found anywhere. Ear-worms nibble at the tips of husks -- pick them off and destroy or squirt corn silks with mineral oil. If borers or smut attack your corn, you should burn affected plants.

Sweet corn is ready for harvest when the silks begin to dry and ears feel plump. Open a husk and test a kernel with your fingernail. If the fluid is milky, it's ripe. Pick corn only when you're ready to cook it. On the cob, it takes just two to three minutes in boiling water or 25 minutes roasted in a 400 degree oven or hot coals. Soak whole ears, husks and all, in water before roasting and baste with water during cooking. GERTY'S CORN PUDDING (4 servings) 2 cups of fresh cut corn (about 4 ears) 2 teaspoons sugar 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 1 teaspoon salt Pinch of black pepper 3 eggs lightly beaten 2 cups milk, or 1 cup milk and 1 cup half and half 2 tablespoons margarine or butter

Combine corn with sugar and seasonings. Add eggs, mixing well. Stir in milk and melted butter. Pour into one quart casserole and place in a pan of hot water in a 325 degree oven. Bake about 1 hour or until knife comes out clean, like baked custard.