Local farmers perform a juggling act to bring fresh sweet corn to you. They know that the shelf life of fresh corn is a few days at best, and they try to get it to you on day one, straight from the field to coolers to the farmers' market.
Last Wednesday, Avondale farmer Dan Hobbs proudly sold his white-and-yellow-kerneled corn, picked early that morning. I had just returned from a trip to visit family in Tennessee, where Aunt Jan served us a big skillet of creamed corn alongside our breakfast sausage and a plate of sliced beefsteak tomatoes, a morning treat no one should miss at the height of corn season.
Actually, since returning from Tennessee just in time for the Colorado corn harvest, I've had corn for breakfast, lunch and dinner, an orgy I can justify since it's so short-lived. But before summer's over, I'll freeze a few bags of this delicacy to cook in the dead of winter, when my taste buds have gone dull and the memory of summer corn has grown dim.
Here are suggestions for three different corn feasts. Don't hesitate to add chopped roasted chiles, garlic or shallots to the pan. Chopped green onion goes well with corn too, as do multi-colored bell peppers. If you're grilling corn, try to do so on the day you buy it. For creamed or skillet-fried corn, a couple days in the refrigerator is fine, since the starches build up and the creaminess is actually enhanced.
Buy your corn at the farmers' market while you can; it's undoubtedly fresher than what you'll get at the supermarket. To test for sweetness and freshness, poke a fingernail into a kernel and expect a nice pop and a spurt of fresh milk. Look for ears that are closed and whose silks haven't gone black.
Creamed corn for
5 ears fresh sweet corn
1 small onion or shallot (optional)
1 tbsp. strained bacon drippings, or 1-2 tbsp. butter or margarine
Milk, half-and-half or cream (low-fat varieties work fine)
Salt and pepper to taste
Remove shucks and silk from corn, and cut kernels off cob with a sharp knife, into a large bowl. Scrape cob with side of knife to extract remaining pulp. (This is an important step; don't skip it.) If using onion or shallot, chop finely and saut in bacon drippings or butter over medium heat. Add corn to skillet and saut briefly. Add milk or cream, enough to saturate and surround all the vegetables in the pan. Bring to slow boil, then turn down to simmer. Cook until milk has been incorporated with corn pulp and mixture is thick and creamy. Add salt and pepper, and a tiny bit of sugar if you want a little extra sweetness, to taste. Serves four.
Note: In some parts of the South, this recipe is made with water instead of milk, and the result is called "fried corn.' If you prepare this, cook the mixture down until it is slightly browned in the pan.
Corn, okra and tomatoes for lunch
5 ears fresh sweet corn, shucks and silk removed, cut from cob as in above recipe
1 small onion or shallot
1 tbsp. olive oil or strained bacon grease
1 cup tomatoes, either halved cherry or quartered small plum
Fresh or frozen sliced okra
Salt and pepper
Saut finely chopped onion or shallot in oil or drippings. Add corn and saut gently. Add water, dash of salt and pepper and tomatoes, and stew on medium-low heat until tender.
While stewing corn and tomatoes, toss fresh okra slices or half-thawed frozen okra slices in cornmeal seasoned with salt and pepper. Heat vegetable oil to very hot, until a piece of okra dropped in sizzles. Fry all okra until slightly brown, and drain on paper towels.
Turn heat off corn mixture and gently fold in okra. Season to taste. A nice addition is a good Cajun seasoning mix. Serves four to six.
Grilled corn for dinner
4-6 ears of the freshest sweet corn possible
Prepare grill for cooking. Pull husks back from corn, keeping them attached at the end, and carefully pull out all silks. Fold husks back up over corn and soak in cold water while waiting for grill to get hot.
Drain and pat corn dry. Grill over hot coals on lightly oiled rack, uncovered, turning to keep from burning, for about 10 to 15 minutes.
Mix melted butter, lime juice and minced garlic. (A little chile powder or paprika can be added for color.) Pull back husks and brush corn with butter sauce. (If you want the kernels browned, pull back the husks at the end of cooking and briefly hold over coals. Then add butter sauce.) Season with salt and pepper.