Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Delicious Simplicity (and Sexuality) of Fresh Sweet Corn

Corn? That’s all we’re having for dinner? These were my exact thoughts the first time I sat down to such a meal while visiting Shawn and his family one summer while we were dating. I’d never heard of such a thing. Honestly, at the table there was a bowl of mashed potatoes, one of green beans, and a huge plate piled high with at least a dozen ears of steaming hot, fresh sweet corn, and that was it. No meatloaf or steaks, none of the typical “main characters” that keep corn on the cob in a supporting role. No, she was the star of this meal. But as they say, “When in Rome…”, so I placed an ear on my plate as the dish passed before me, and with the first bite, I knew exactly why this was a standard summertime meal in Lancaster County: this corn was amazing, well deserving of it’s place as the centerpiece of any dinner table.

Let me first caution you before you invite over a houseful of guests and attempt to feed them any old corn you find at the grocery store, hoping to astound them with your brilliant simplicity. It won’t work. This corn has to be fresh, like “just picked that morning” fresh, not ears that were picked last week and then took an 8-hour ride in the back of a semi just to sit in that big plastic bin in the produce section of a superstore for a day or two before you finally rescue it and take it home to your family. That’s not gonna cut it. You gotta find yourself a farmer’s market or roadside stand and these days, even in the city, those aren’t hard to come by. With the first bite, you’ll taste the difference.

Since just about everyone out there knows how to shuck an ear of corn and put it in boiling water, there’s really no recipe for this week’s Manic Monday suggestion so I will leave you with a quote from one of my favorite writers, Garrison Keillor, in his book Leaving Home, because his thoughts on sweet corn pretty much say it all. I know, you’re really tempted to stop reading here, but don’t give into that thought. Take the extra 30 seconds and read this little bit because it will most definitely put a smile on your face and forever change the way you look at fresh sweet corn.

“Sweet corn was our family’s weakness. We were prepared to resist atheistic Communism, immoral Hollywood, hard liquor, gambling and dancing, smoking, fornication, but if Satan had come around with sweet corn, we at least would have listened to what he had to sell. We might not have bought it but we would’ve had him in and given him a cup of coffee. It was not amazing to learn in eighth-grade science that corn is sexual, each plant containing both genders, male tassel and female flower, propagating in our garden after dark. Sweet corn was so delicious, what could have produced it except sex? Sunday after church, when the pot roast was done and the potatoes were boiled and mashed and a pot of water was boiling—only then would Dad run out with a bushel basket and pick thirty ears of corn. We shucked it clean in five seconds per ear and popped it in the pot for a few minutes. A quick prayer, a little butter and salt, and that is as good as it gets. People have searched the world over for something better and didn’t find it because it’s not there. There’s nothing better, not even sex. People have wanted sex to be as good as sweet corn and have worked hard to improve it, and afterward they lay together in the dark, and say, 'That was so wonderful…But it wasn’t as good as fresh sweet corn.'"

Hope that brightens up your Manic Monday as much as it did mine!


  1. Last year, my family had a farmer plant 15 acres of sweet corn, and we had a huge party of shuck it, clean it, cook, and prep it for freezing. I was eating bits fresh off the ear, before they were even cooked.

    I'm still eating that corn while I wait for this years. It is, as you note, one of the best parts of summer.

  2. I am such a fresh sweet corn lover too Mai! I buy the fresh picked-today at my favorite road side stand, cook 6 ears at a time, cut it all off the cob and put in a bowl with real (melting) butter and a dash of sea salt and pepper. Later, Luke and I dip out what we want, heat for 20 seconds, and eat it as we fly in and out, with our busy schedules. I have a bowl waiting right now! Take care.

  3. We've got about a third of our garden covered in corn rows at the moment but I'd gladly give up a couple zucchini plants next year to get a few more rows:) Glad to hear from some other corn lovers out there. Thanks, ladies!

  4. Just requested "Leaving Home" at the library. I've always wanted to read Keillor, but never have. Thanks for the excerpt!

  5. LOL! I just read the part from Keillor...hilarious! Oh and the corn you guys served last weekend definitely deserved the front and center honor of being the main dish!