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CORN JUST GETS SWEETER
Corn is king in summer. Even confirmed vegetable haters drool over
fresh sweet corn slathered with butter, salt and pepper. It's a beloved seasonal past timeówhat
truffles are to the French and mussels to the Belgians. Although European
friends may scoff at our passion and say that corn is fit for livestock
only, the truth is that corn, the way Americans love it, wonít be found in the
Old World. Itís a New World vegetableóNative American at that.
Colorado corn can be traced to the ancient Anasazi who farmed at Mesa Verde.
As one of the "three sisters" of agriculture, including squash and
beans, corn served as a staple food. The Anasazi might not recognize our
present day sweet corn tucked into the beds of trucks rumbling through towns.
Still, Olathe Sweet from the Western Slope of Colorado is a descendant from that
ancient humble and tough plant.
At the Corn Festival in Olathe, Colorado, corn rules the town and
the nearly 20,000 participants who congregate to celebrate. The farmers have
sold most of the crop to the supermarket chain Kroger Co., which plans to market
Olathe Sweet as one of the nationís best. Their fresh corn is renowned for its tender and succulent flavor.
According to David Harold, whose father John Harold brokered the deal with
Kroger, the Western Slope's warm days and cool nights contribute to the reason why Olathe corn is
spectacular. "The climate here is what makes this corn productive." he
says, "Thereís a temperature differential between day and night, 90s in
the day, then a drop of 25 degrees at night in the 60s, which makes it sweet and
tender. It was bred here so it was made for this area."
TODAYíS CORN LIKELY TO RETAIN ITS NATURAL SUGAR
Corn is a grass, so it has an advantage over flowering plants. Grasses donít
wait for the most desirable insect ambling by to help reproduction. The wind
will blow corn pollen around the globe. That explains why corn has spread so
widely and cross-pollinated into numerous varieties. Of course, it has had help from scientists, too.
The old familiar standards of corn twenty years ago turned sugar to starch as
soon as picked. That cultivar was called Golden Bantam and itís why gardeners with backyard
rows of corn put water to boil on the stove before the corn was picked.
Corn went directly into the water just seconds after harvest. Today our
sweet corn, like Olathe Sweet, has been bred to maintain a sugar level rather
than convert immediately into starch. "Itís a specialty item and takes
some care," David says, "When we pick it and harvest, itís not by
machine, but hand picked. Thatís because of the tenderness of the kernels. We
do it over an 8-week period."
So itís important to treat fresh sweet corn like the perishable vegetable
that it is. David says that Olathe Sweet is picked and immersed in icy cold
wateróa kind of slushy--to preserve flavor. Olathe Sweet should be refrigerated
when you bring it home. Other cultivars may prefer room temperature. With all
varieties, choose ears of corn plump in the middle and tapered at the ends with
a slightly damp tassel. That tassel may be brown at the end but should be a
little green where it is connected to the corn. Kernels at the tip should be
immature. If the kernels are well developed at the tips, chances are the corn is
overgrown with tough kernels throughout. And finally, donít shuck the corn
until you cook it.
Olathe Sweet has found a fan in Aspen, too. "I like it for the
sweetness, crispness and small kernels," says Charles Dale, chef and owner of
Rustique restaurant. Like any corn aficionado, Charles
holds to strict rules when it comes to cooking sweet corn. "My pet peeve is
that corn should be cooked no longer than 45 seconds. Then I like to cut it off
the cob. I also like it as corn chowder, which we do here with lobster. Whatís
interesting about this corn chowder is that thereís no cream and no potatoes.
The creaminess comes from the natural milkiness of the corn. Then itís pureed
until itís like silkÖno pun on corn silk intended. I came from the East Coast
where we got good New Jersey corn. But out here, the corn is delicious."
(Charlesí recipe follows)
SWEET CORN IS GETTING SWEETER
The "natural milkiness" that Charles refers to is a characteristic
of sweet corn. Ears of corn are ripe when they reach what is called the
"milk" stage. A kernel of corn will ooze a creamy fluid when pierced.
Wait for the next stage and the kernel will dry to popcorn or
On the Harold farm, Davidís favorite way to cook corn is to throw the
entire ear, in its husk, on a fire. The husk turns black
and then he shucks and eats it. But thatís not the only way to eat Olathe Sweet.
"The field workers roast it on the high muffler of the machines. Some will
husk it; others leave it in the husk," David says, "but if you boil it
in water it should cook no more than 60 seconds."
Today itís not easy to understand all the varieties of corn on the market.
Thereís Normal Sugary (su), which is the category where youíll find the old
Golden Bantam and Silver Queen. Theyíre still plentiful and popular. These are
the varieties youíll want to cook immediately after picking. But more often
youíll see the Sugary Enhanced (se) and (se+) that will hold their sugar after
harvest. Usually these varieties will have the words "sweet" or
"sugar" somewhere in the name. And then youíll find Supersweet
(sh2), which are labeled intensely sweet with names that end in
"candy" or the words "extra sweet" included in their
Whatever corn you choose, itís low in fat and calories. Vitamins A and C
join fiber, folate and potassium to give corn some nutritional clout. And for
only a couple of summer months, thereís no sweeter vegetable to grace a plate.
Charles Daleís Lobster Corn Chowder
"There is nothing better, nor more acutely American, than sweet corn in
the summer," Charles writes about this recipe, "Fresh and lively,
smooth as silk, corn is a quintessential country ingredient. The addition of
Maine lobster to this soup brings it from the homey to the ethereal, a perfect
example of "Haute Rustic" cuisine. Youíll notice that there is no
cream in this recipe. We keep it light by using two percent milk: the natural
sugars and starch in the corn combine with the milk to give this soup its
distinctive silky richness." Charles also says that you can make this soup
without lobster, too.
- 1 Maine lobster, cooked, about 1 Ĺ pounds
- 2 tablespoons corn oil, or vegetable oil
- 2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 1 leek, white part only sliced
- 3 cloves garlic
- 7 ears of sweet corn
- 6 cups two percent milk
- 1 small bunch fresh summer savory, or fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- pinch of cayenne
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small red onion, finely diced
- 1 small red bell pepper, finely diced
- 1 clove garlic, chopped or pressed
- Ĺ jalapeno pepper, finely minced, or favorite hot sauce
- pinch of salt
- Small bunch fresh chives, finely snipped
Husk the corn, and remove all the silk. Washing the corn under cold running
water will facilitate this. Cut all the corn from the cobs and reserve the cobs.
Place the two percent milk, the corncobs, the salt and the summer savory or
fresh thyme in a 4-quart saucepot. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes.
Reserve 1/4 of the corn kernels.
Meanwhile, heat a ten-inch sautť pan over medium heat, and add the 2
tablespoons of olive oil. Add the diced onion and bell pepper, sweat for five
minutes, stirring, then add the garlic, the jalapeno, and the reserved corn
kernels. Stir for one minute and remove from heat.
Heat the corn oil in a separate 4-quart stockpot and sautť the celery, onion
and leek. Add the garlic cloves and the remaining three quarts of the corn
kernels and sautť for two more minutes. Strain the hot milk over the pot and
discard the herbs and the corncobs. Add the cayenne pepper and simmer for 30
Blend the soup and strain through a medium strainer. Check the seasoning and
adjust if necessary. Keep the soup warm. To serve, slice the lobster tail and
claws into 12 pieces. Spoon two tablespoons of the corn and pepper mixture into
the center of six bowls, place two pieces of lobster in bowls and garnish with
the snipped chives. Transfer the soup to a pitcher and pour at the tables.
Fresh Barely Cooked Corn in Tomato Cups with Cilantro Salsa
- 4 ears of tender fresh corn, cooked for less than one minute
- 4 ripe tomatoes
- 1 bunch cilantro, about one cup, leaves mostly with woody stems discarded
- 1 lime, juiced
- kosher salt to taste
- 1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and stem discarded, cut into strips
- ľ to Ĺ cup olive oil
Shuck the kernels off the corn and cook in boiling water for 45 seconds. Cut medium-sized tomatoes in half and scoop
out the inside. Reserve for another use. In a blender or food processor add the
cilantro, juice of one lime, kosher salt to taste, olive oil and jalapeno
pepper. Blend until it forms a sauce. Place sauce in the bottom of a plate and
spoon the fresh corn and tomatoes on top.
Fresh Corn Timbale with Roasted Red Sweet Pepper
- 1 sweet red pepper
- 4 ears of fresh corn
- 1 cup of half-and-half
- 3 eggs, beaten
- Ĺ cup of Parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
Roast red pepper by placing it over a gas flame and turning it as the skin
blisters. Or place the pepper in a shallow pan under the oven broiler and turn
it as the skin blisters. When the skin is charred all over, put the pepper in a
plastic bag and wait until it is cool enough to handle. Then peel off the skin,
discard the stem and seeds and slice the pepper into small squares. Set aside.
Cut kernels off the corn. Mix eggs with half and half, add the corn, salt and
pepper. Set aside.
Butter four custard cups. Place several pieces of red pepper in the bottom.
Pour in the custard corn mixture. Sprinkle with cheese. Place the custard cups
in a baking dish with water. The water should come up to about half the height
of the cups. Bake in a 360-degree oven for 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted
in the custard comes out clean. When slightly cooled, run a blunt knife around
the edges. The custard will slip out.
To be authentic to Colorado in your menu, serve with long-simmering pinto
Corn with Compound Butters: compound butters are nothing more than herbs or
spices added to butter. You can make up the proportions that are the most
appealing to you. Here are a few ideas to get you going. Add one of the following to
a half stick of butter and allow to sit for about two hours in refrigeration before
- Chile powder and garlic, about two tablespoons of chile and one tablespoon of
fresh, minced fresh garlic.
- Or, fresh cilantro and lime: three tablespoons of minced fresh cilantro,
juice from one half a lime.
- Or, fresh parsley, garlic and tarragon: two tablespoons minced of each herb,
one of garlic.
Helpful websites: for the Olathe Corn Festival: