At Riva Gardens, you can’t purchase corn unless you ask first. Politely. For this reason (and for Diane’s wonderful baking skills, I suspect), locals love the shop, voting it “Best Corn in Anne Arundel County”.
Corn, as much as mac-and-cheese, peanut butter or cupcakes, is a classic American comfort food. From the air, America appears to be a patchwork of cornfields, which are planted as feed for both humans and animals in literally every state. From corn flakes for breakfast, to corn syrup in most processed sweets to corn on the cob for dinner, the plant is somewhere present in every American household. Corn technically isn’t, but sort of does seem to be as American as Applie Pie, as inseparable from the rural agrarian experience we each seem to relate to as is the image of a tractor or barn.
And yet corn isn’t a particularly strong plant and it isn’t necessarily easy to grow. The success or demise of a farmer’s corn could hinge on something so intangible as a single summer storm. This year has been particularly difficult for regional corn farmers. Corn needs heat to grow- in fact, it thrives on heat. Summer has been cool from the start, with only brief periods of the intense heat we expect to seasonally endure. Farmers are further confounded by rain, which kills the roots of the plant. Once the roots go, so too does the plant, which becomes both physically and nutritionally abandoned. With the rain comes all sorts of bugs and blight, none of which serves the corn well.
Despite its reputation as a pluckish All American crop, corn is actually quite delicate. The minute the crop is picked, the sugars in the corn begin to break down, draining sweetness from the kernels.
Corn is of course, a summer crop. It gets picked in the heat, stacked in piles, and shipped in open trucks to markets where it usually sits in yet another hot pile. In that heap, it shares heat with its neighbors. Wrapped in the husk, the corn technically begins to steam. This unfortunately means that corn starts to cook from the moment it leaves the stalk.
For fresh corn, refrigetate immediately and use the same day. Purchase it from farmers markets or farm stands, where it hasn’t been shipped from points unknown, and hasn’t been sitting on the shelf for who-knows-how-long.
Diane says the best way to cook corn it to bring the water to a full, rolling boil. Shuck the corn. Turn the heat off the water, put the corn in. Cover the pot, cook for two minutes and the corn is done. You may think this isn’t enough time, but Diane makes a compelling claim: “if the corn doesn’t taste good raw, it won’t taste good cooked, and it certainly won’t taste good over-cooked.”
She also likes the microwave method: leave the corn in the husk. Sprinkle it with some water and microwave for 2-3 minutes. The silks should slide right off and “that corn should make your butter tastes good!”
To grill the corn, she cuts off the ends and leaves the husk on. Soak the corn for 10-ish minute sin cold water. Then place it over indirect heat on the grill for 5-7 minutes, turning occasionally.
Here are some favorite corn recipes. Obviously there are thousands in the American lexicon, but these are some basics that should get you through the next several weeks of corn season.
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