Sweet corn. Fresh sweet corn. Summer’s always meant fresh sweet corn to me.
Huge bins of sweet corn at farm stands. Stacks of sweet corn piled high in the backs of pick up trucks and Amish farmers’ horse-drawn carts parked along the roadside with cardboard signs advertising “Fresh Corn.” Sitting with Aunt Theo on the porch, shucking ears of corn for a bounteous summer dinner, as she passed on family wisdom from her mother: “If you trip coming back from the field carrying freshly picked corn, you’ve waited too long to cook it.”
Humorist and monologuist Garrison Keillor, he of Prairie Home Companion and Lake Woebegon fame, rhaspodizes about the pleasures of sweet corn, proclaiming “Sex is good, but not as good as fresh sweet corn.”
The Tuesday Culver City Farmers’ Market has sweet corn galore. If you’re lucky, Finley Farms will be offering samples of its organic corn on the cob. One blissful bite and you’ll be hooked. Many of the farm stands offer freshness and convenience for our busy lives, selling bags of pre-shucked and de-silked corn ready for the pot or grill. I treasure my memories of shucking corn and shelling peas with Aunt Theo, but on busy nights it’s a great timesaver to have corn on the cob without its husks and silk.
Sweet corn was first introduced to European settlers by the Iroquois in 1779. Unlike field corn, which is harvested when the kernels are dry and mature, sweet corn is picked immature (in the milk stage). My grandmother’s advice about cooking sweet corn straight from the field was definitely true back then. Sweet corn stores poorly as its sugar is converted to starch during the process of maturation. Sweet corn arose as a naturally-occurring variation thanks to recessive genes. Hybridization during the last century has allowed for more uniform maturity, improved quality and disease resistance. There are literally hundreds of varieties of sweet corn now, both yellow and white.
I’m pretty sure my grandmother never had mangos, chile pepers or feta cheese, but I’m sure that a version of corn chowder graced her dinner table during sweet corn season. The recipe for corn salad with mango and chile pepper comes from a Minnesota farm girl who moved to town and buys her corn at the St. Paul Farmers Market. Pacific Coast farmers market vendors are the source for the corn-stuffed tomatoes and chilled corn chowder with fresh dill.
Corn Salad with Mango
8 c. fresh corn kernels (cut from 8 to 12 ears of already boiled corn)
1 large mango, peeled and diced into 1/2_ pieces
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
10 scallions, white and green parts, sliced
1/4 c. finely diced fresh red chile or red bell pepper if you prefer a mild salad
1/4 c. chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
1/4 c. olive oil
2 T. cider vinegar
1 T. sugar or sugar-substitute
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
In a large bowl, stir together the corn, mango, tomatoes, scallions, red chile, and parsley.
Whisk together the olive oil, cider vinegar, sugar, cumin, salt, and black pepper. Drizzle over all the vegetables and parsley. Stir until combined.
(serves 4 as main dish or 8 as side dish)
4 large beefsteak or heirloom tomatoes like Brandywine, Cherokee or Black Krim
3 cups corn kernels, cut from 4 to 5 cooked cobs
1/3 cup minced onion
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 jalapeno, minced
1/4 cup mayonnaise or thick Greek-style yogurt
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste
optional: 1 – 2 cups black beans, cooked and drained
Cut tomatoes in half crosswise. Scoop out as much of the pulp as possible, leaving a 1/4-inch shell. Be careful if you’re using heirloom tomatoes, because the stem ends are often not as well-rounded as the tops of beefsteak tomatoes. Decide whether you want extra jalapeno heat before you mince it. Removing the seeds will cut down on its natural hotness. Chop the tomato you scooped out and place it in a strainer to drain excess liquid. Set tomato shells aside.
In a medium bowl, combine the corn kernels, minced onion, feta cheese and minced jalapeno. If you are adding a cup or two of cooked black beans, do so now. Toss to mix. Add mayonnaise or yogurt, chili powder and lime juice and stir till everything is coated evenly with dressing. Add one cup of the drained tomato pulp and toss again to mix.
Spoon corn mixture into tomato shells, dividing evenly between the eight halves. Chill for 30 minutes and serve.
Corn and beans combined create a complete protein, so consider adding black beans if you’re planning to serve this as a vegetarian entre. You can omit the mayonnaise or yogurt if you want a vegan version of this recipe.
Chilled Corn Chowder with Fresh Dill
3 cups corn kernels (4 ears)
2 stalk green onions, white parts only, sliced
1 small red pepper or tomato, seeded, chopped finely
_ lime, juiced
2 teaspoons fresh dill leaves
3 cups milk, 1 cup plain yogurt (whisked together)
Salt and peper to taste
Small fresh dill sprigs for garnish
Whisk together the milk and yogurt; set aside. Combine 1 cup of corn, sliced green onions, lime juice, dill leaves, salt and pepper, Puree until smoothe in a food processor or blender. Add 1 cup of the milk/yogurt combination and process until blended. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and whisk in the remaining milk and yogurt. Add the rest of the corn and chopped red pepper or tomato. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Chill deeply before serving. Garnish with small fresh dill sprigs.
The Tuesday Culver City Farmers Market is held from 2 to 7 pm on Main Street in between Venice and Culver Boulevards.
Katie Malich’s been know to toss a handful of kernels of fresh, uncooked sweet corn into her tossed summer salads. Yum.