AMERICAN food writers have told us for almost 200 years that the quality of corn degenerates quickly after it is picked, and that it should go straight from the fields into the pot. While there is certainly still some truth in this, most of the corn found in the marketplace today is hybrid and stored under wpecial refrigeration techniques so that it is moist and relatively fresh-tasting when purchased.
It is still a good idea to inspect corn before you buy it. Discreetly peel down the green leaves at the tip of the ear and look for moist, juicy kernels. If you notice that the kernels are coarse or dry and wrinkled, or that there is worm damage, don't but the corn. When buying from an open-air market, try to select ears that are piled in a shady place, not in the hot sun. Bu sure to store the corn in a cool place once you get it home.
In the Washington area, this is the month for Silver Queen corn.
These pale, pearly ears with their sweet, delicate flavor do benefit from a frantic dash from field to pot, as does any local corn that was not refrigerated as soon as it was picked.
No summer should pass without its fill of just-picked corn eaten right off the cob. But once you are sated on that, it is not difficult to remove the kernels from the cob yo vary the menu. Stand the cob on one end and cut the kernels off with a sharp pearing knife. It is even easier with a gadget that has a U-shaped handle with an expandable cuttint ring in the center that separates all the kernels from the cob by just pressing it down the cob.
Here are a traditional, a less-traditional and nontraditional treatment for corn on the cob. TRADITIONAL
Shuck the ears of corn and remove the silk just before cooking. Place corn in a large pot of unsalted cold water (salt tends to make the kernels tough). Set over high heat. When the water reaches a full rolling boil, corn is ready to serve. Serve with softened, unsalted butter, salt and a peppermill. For those on salt-free diets, a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice can replace the salt. Also, adding 1 or 2 tablesoons of sugar or equal parts sugar and lemon juice to your boiling water will improve the flavor of day-old corn, as will adding some of the husks to the cooking water. LESS-TRADITIONAL
Prepare and serve the corn as directed above, but cook in half milk and half water. This, too, is especially recommended if the corn is a few days older than it should be. LEAST-TRADITIONAL
Corn on the Cob with Green Peppercorn Butter: Prepare the corn by either of the methods above, or as directed for microwave-cooked corn (below) or corn steamed on its own leaves (below). Serve with Green Peppercorn Butter. GREEN PEPPERCORN BUTTER 1 1/2 tablespoons green peppercorns (canned green peppercorns packed in water or brine--not vinegar--thoroughly drained) 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1 clove garlic 4 ounces butter, preferably unsalted Salt Freshly ground black pepper
Fit the bowl of a food processor with the metal blade and turn on. Add the peppercorns, lemon juice and garlic and process until the ingredients are finely mashed. Add the butter, a little at a time, and process, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until well combined. Season with salt and generous amounts of freshly ground black pepper. MICROWAVE-COOKED CORN
Many vegetables cook well in a microwave oven, and corn is one of them. Just cook at full power, with the husks and silk still on, for about 3 minutes. Remove from the oven and shuck (being careful not to burn yourself, as the husks and silk will be very hot). Serve in any of the ways suggested for corn on the cob.
Another microwave method calls for removing the outer husk. Push back the inner husks and carefully remove the silk. Pull husks back over corn and twist or tie closed at the top.
Cooking time in a microwave is 3 to 5 minutes at high setting for 1 ear; 4 to 9 minutes for 2 ears; 9 to 12 minutes for 3 ears; 10 to 17 minutes for 4 ears. Rearrange ears every 4 minutes, if you have more than one ear. Let corn stand for 5 minutes before serving.
If completely husked corn is to be microwaved, wrap ears individually in plastic wrap, or place them in a tightly covered dish which contains 1/4 cup of water. Allow 2 to 5 minutes of cooking time at high setting for 1 ear; 4 1/2 to 10 minutes for 2 ears; 6 to 12 minutes for 3 ears; 7 1/2 to 16 minutes for 4 ears. Let corn stand for 5 minutes before serving. CORN STEAMED ON ITS OWN LEAVES
Husk the corn, reserving the green leaves and silk. Place about half an inch of cold water in the bottom of a deep pot large enough to hold the corn in one layer. Add the reserved leaves and silk, and bring slowly to a boil. Add the corn in 1 layer, raise heat to medium high, cover and steam for 4 to 5 minutes, turning once. CREAMED SUCCOTASH WITH TARRAGON (8 servings)
The traditional succotash of my childhood was a boring dish of overcooked limas and canned corn niblets. This recipe in no way resembles that; it is a richly flavored combination of fresh corn kernels and lima beans supported by the aromatics: onions, shallots and garlic, and warmly flavored with tarragon, cream and butter. Serve with roasted or broiled meats or fish, or with saute'ed poultry or game. 6 tablespoons butter 1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped 1 large shallot, peeled and finely chopped 1 garlic clove, finely chopped 8 to 10 ears fresh corn 10-ounce package frozen lima beans, defrosted and drained 2 teaspooons dried tarragon 1/2 cup whipping cream Salt Freshly ground black pepper
Melt the butter in the bottom of a large saucepan. Add the onions, shallots, and garlic and saute' until tender and translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Meanwhile, remove the kernels from the ears of corn. When onions are tender, add the corn kernels, limas and tarragon; and cook gently about 1 minute. Add the cream, bring to a boil, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. JOSH'S CORN RELISH (Makes about 8 pints)
This corn relish is somewhat acidic, which makes it ideal to serve with a sweet glazed ham. If you prefer a sweeter relish, add 1/2 cup of brown sugar to the white sugar in the recipe. 3 quarts corn kernels (from about 25 ears of corn) 3 large green peppers, finely chopped 5 large sweet red peppers, finely chopped 2 medium onions, finely chopped 3 or 4 ribs of celery, finely chopped 1 1/2 cups sugar 1/2 cup brown sugar (optional) 1 tablespoon kosher salt 4 teaspoons mustard seed 1 teaspoon celery seeds 1/2 teaspoon turmeric (if using white corn; for color) 2 2/3 cups 5-percent-acid cider vinegar 2 cups water
Husk the corn and blanch in boiling water for 2 minutes. Remove from the water and immediately plunge into cold water to cool. Cut the kernels from the cobs. Combine the kernels with the remaining ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
Pour the relish into sterilized jars, covering with liquid. Leave about 1/2 inch empty at the top of the jars. Wipe the jars and cover with lids. Place in a water bath. When the water has come to a full rolling boil, reduce heat slightly so that water boils gently, and cook for 15 minutes. Remove jars and complete the sealing process.
Be certain to follow the manufacturer's directions carefully in the canning and sealing process.