Summer corn, winter corn
It is spring — at least according to the calendar. The time of year we start looking forward to summer and all its culinary delights … like sweet corn on the cob.
Fresh, sweet corn captures the rays of golden sunshine, turning them into sugar. Eaten straight off the cob, it is one of the simplest and most wholesome culinary delights of summer. After all, according to Garrison Keillor, “People have tried and tried, but sex is not better than sweet corn.”
Ahh … summer. The weather is warming slowly, but we’re months away from fresh summer corn.
Fresh corn kernels are tender, delicate, creamy and sweet – not like their tougher, thick-skinned canned or frozen cousins. Yet canned sweet corn, a vegetable for easy winter use, has outsold all other canned vegetables since World War I. Most sweet corn for freezing and canning is grown in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Pacific Northwest.
For many native peoples, corn had religious significance. Its origins were attributed to the gods. A Mayan creation story claims that life springs from corn. Both field corn and sweet corn were grown by native peoples.
. In 1620, Wampanoag Indians introduced European immigrants to corn. Closer to our region, the Iroquois diet was based on corn, beans, and squash, the three sister spirits that sustain life. Corn soup and corn bread were staples of the Iroquois diet.
With more than 80 billion acres covering heartland states like Iowa, corn is America’s biggest agricultural crop. Most of that is field corn, used for things like animal feed, corn oil, high fructose corn syrup and ethanol. Field corn is very high in starch, which makes it tough and not nearly as sweet as sweet corn. That is why it is processed into cornmeal or corn flour, then used in things like tortillas, tortilla chips, corn flakes, granola bars, corn starch, food thickeners (like xanthan gum), preservatives, skincare products, caramel color, malt.
Although they are closely related, field corn and sweet corn look different, taste different and are used for different things. Sweet corn is a naturally occurring recessive mutation of field corn affecting the conversion of sugar to starch. When harvested at peak when kernels are full of moisture and sweetness, it has more sugar and less starch. The plant is shorter and matures faster than field corn. It cannot be stored the way field corn can, so it must be eaten fresh, or canned or frozen for storage. Unlike field corn, 90% of which is genetically modified to resist the pesticide glyphosate (roundup) less than 4 percent of sweet corn grown in the USA is GMO.
While sweet corn is usually considered a vegetable, it is actually the seed-bearing fruit of the corn plant, botanically a grain; one medium ear has about 30 grams of carbohydrates. The carbs in corn are complex and whole, so they take longer to digest than a donut or slice of white bread. Like other whole grains, it is a good source of fiber, protein and B vitamins. It is also high in magnesium, potassium, folic acid, thiamine, and some vitamin C. One ear of corn is about 3/4 cup of corn kernels and has about 100 calories — the same as a banana or an apple, and less sugar.
Whether fresh, frozen or canned, sweet corn is versatile. It’s good in soups and casseroles, salads and salsas, sweet puddings and custards. Succotash, traditional Indian fare of corn and lima beans, is filling and comforting.
This time of year when everything is still under snow and fresh salad greens come from California or Mexico, I make salads with frozen or canned corn.
and Kraut Salad
1 cup corn kernels (thawed if frozen)
1 cup sauerkraut (fermented cabbage)
1 cup diced sweet bell peppers (orange and red)
2 to 3 scallions, white and green parts (about a half cup to 1 cup)
Combine corn and kraut in salad bowl. Remove seeds from peppers, dice and add. Cut ends and any wilted leaves off scallions; slice scallions in half-inch lengths and add. Stir to combine.
This salad needs no dressing as the kraut juice provides salt and tartness and the corn and peppers provide sweetness. Allow flavors to blend for an hour or longer.
Makes about 3 cups of salad. Serves two to four depending on size of servings.
Corn and Cucumber Salad
1 to 2 cucumbers (depending on size)
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons fresh minced dill
Few scallions (about a half to 1 cup, sliced), green and white parts
2 cups corn kernels
2 Tablespoon sour cream (or 1 T sour cream and 1 T plain yogurt)
Peel cucumbers (peeling optional). Cut lengthwise in half, then quarters. Then cut across the grain to form small cubes. Place in salad bowl and sprinkle with salt and fresh dill.
Cut root ends off the scallions and slice. Add to cucumbers in bowl and stir to combine. Fold in sour cream and yogurt. Serve.
Options: For a main dish salad, add 3 chopped hard-cooked eggs or 1 to 2 cups diced cooked chicken.
Makes about 4 1-cup servings.
Black Bean Salad
2 cups cooked black beans, drained
2 cups corn
1 cup diced red bell pepper
1 cup diced green bell pepper
1 cup diced sweet onion
1/2 cup sliced celery
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1 cup prepared salsa
1 cup sour cream
Place beans, peppers, onion, celery and parsley in salad bowl. Stir to combine.
In small bowl, blend salsa and sour cream. Fold into salad.
Makes about six 1-cup servings.
Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com or on Facebook as Author