Corn is everywhere in the American diet. We have corn syrup, corn oil, cornmeal…. But sweet local corn only comes around in the summer. Most of the corn in our diets comes from dried field corn, while sweet corn is a treat that doesn’t stick around.
When you want sweet corn, local corn is the only way to go. While new varieties have been developed to both add sweetness and to keep that sweetness from going to starch, you still want the freshest corn for the best taste.
What does Local Corn Taste Like?
Local corn is supposed to be sweet. It has a crunch as you bite into it, and a buttery flavor. Fresh local corn on the cob is light and crunchy, and not to be missed at peak time in the summer!
Corn loses its sweetness to starch as it ages. Traditionally, you started boiling the water for it before you pulled it off the stalk and shucked it. Newer varieties don’t lose sweetness quite as fast, but heirloom varieties will.
Newer varieties of corn may have tougher kernels than the heirloom types. Even though newer, sweeter corn will maintain sweetness longer, it will lose some of its creaminess as it ages. Buy corn locally to ensure it is fresh, and shuck it right before you plan to cook it.
Growing Local Corn
Local corn season is in full swing in July, and will be available in Maryland from June through September. Most of the corn you might see in the fields will be field corn, meant for drying and then either for animal feed or to be processed into high fructose corn syrup, oil, ethanol, or flour.
Sweet corn grows well in Maryland, and can easily be grown by the home gardener. It needs a lot of nitrogen, which is one of the reasons it traditionally was grown with beans, which add nitrogen to the soil.
Corn comes in many varieties, most often as as dried corn for feed and further processing. The sweet corn is a bit different, and comes in sugary and supersweet varieties. Sugary is easier to grow, but doesn’t last as long. If you are new to growing corn, start with sugary over the supersweets.
When buying your corn, buy it in the husk, and buy it locally. Look for heavy ears for their size, with yellow or brown (not black) silks on top and bright green husks.
Rather than pulling back the husk to look at kernels, feel for them through the husk. Avoid cobs with tiny brown holes near the top, as those are worm holes. Look for cobs that were picked that day, if possible.
Preserving Local Corn
Your local corn will not last long. If you buy the supersweets, they will last a week in the fridge, but may sacrifice creaminess. If you buy standard varieties, you want to eat them the same day.
Local corn freezes well. You can freeze it on the cob, or cut the kernels off, and you can experiment with blanching or not blanching your corn.
You can also dry your corn to add to soups later.
The important thing to remember is that you want to preserve your local corn quickly for best flavor. When you get it home, have a plan in place so you can freeze, can, or dry your corn the same day.
Eating Local Corn
Local corn can be a very versatile meal option in the summer. Corn on the cob can be boiled, steamed, grilled, or roasted in the oven. I recommend you cook more than you need, then use the leftovers later for salad or soup.
I like fresh corn best boiled and eaten straight off the cob. I skip the butter and salt because I find it messy and like the taste of corn without it. You can find flavored butters or cheese toppings for your corn if you want something different.
Corn chowder might be a better option when it gets colder, so freeze some of your corn for later. Try making this Hearty Homemade Corn Chowder. For a vegan, lighter corn soup, you might make Fresh Corn Soup.
Corn is native to both North and South America. In Bolivia and Peru, they call corn choclo, and it is a large kerneled corn that is not sweet. It is used in many dishes, and it wasn’t my favorite when I lived there.
Peruvian ceviche comes with choclo, however. When I ordered ceviche from a Peruvian place in Nicaragua, they put regular sweet corn in it. I may not like choclo, but it seemed odd to have yellow sweet corn.
There are many Spanish words for corn, including maiz, choclo, and elote. We call it corn because corn once meant grain. So you might see a historical novel using the word corn even before Columbus arrived in North America.