Memories of Summer Corn
By Susan M. Thigpen © 1990
Issue: July, 1990
Practically all families in the Blue Ridge used to have gardens. A lot of childhood memories about hoeing corn and picking beans were not too pleasant, but when it comes to remembering what all those fresh vegetables tasted like, ah, that is a pure delight!
My own personal favorite fresh vegetable was sweet white corn. As soon as the ears were only half filled out with kernels, I would be pulling it to be boiled in a big pot of water with salt and a pat of butter added to keep it from boiling over. I really acquired a taste for the tender young ears of corn, so tender you would eat the kernels and then suck the sweetness out of the still semi-soft cob. You can never buy corn at that stage in a supermarket. They seem to only pick corn that is at its peak (or a little beyond and too hard) to sell commercially. I confess to eating whole meals of nothing but corn on the cob, six or eight ears at a sitting. My mother used to tease me with an old country saying, "Go give the horse another ear," as I reached for yet another one.
Most little girls growing up in the mountains were given a young ear of corn to play with as a doll when they had to be taken to the field and were still too young to work. The golden "silks" made pretty long blond hair for the doll and the shucks were arranged as a dress. I used to poke small sticks in the cob to make a face. I enjoyed learning, when I was old enough to go to school, that little Indian girls played with corn dolls a hundred year ago. It was fun to play in the cornfield, if you were careful not to harm the stalks. After a big summer storm, everyone went to the cornfield to stand the stalks back up that had been knocked over by the wind and rain. The whole family, even the small children got to help with that.
Our neighbors up the road used to cook corn on the cob outdoors on a grill or campfire, by pulling the ears of corn, peeling back the shucks and cleaning the corn, then buttering the ear and pulling the shucks back up over the ear. (At this point you can wrap the ear in foil if you wish, or not.) They swore that the shucks gave it extra flavor and even threw a few in the pot when they boiled corn.
When you are buying fresh sweet corn, keep in mind how long it has been since it was pulled. The sugar content in corn begins breaking down into a different type of carbohydrate within 24 hours after it is picked, and loses flavor fast.
Another favorite way to prepare corn is delicious but messy. Cut the kernels off the cob, only slicing the tops of the kernels off. Then hold each cob up and scrape down it with a knife to get the "good" out of what is left. This is called double-cut corn. It is delicious to make hushpuppies and use some double cut corn in the batter. When you cook double cut corn, do not add water. Place the corn in a thick pan on top of the stove on a medium heat (do not overheat or heat too fast because it will scorch). Place a lot of butter in it along with salt and pepper to taste. You can make this a soupier mixture by adding a little milk.
Corn cooked this way only takes a few minutes. If you really want to eat it country style, serve it with a big pot of pinto beans and mix the corn and beans together on your plate. Another way is to serve the corn like an open face sandwich on top of split open hunks of cornbread.
Everyone loves green beans at the beginning of the season, but if you get tired of them, try cooking corn cut off the cob with them.
As the last of the garden vegetables ripen, country kitchens make soup mixtures and can it. Somehow those last few ears of corn, tomatos, green (and other) beans, okra, onions and peppers that are canned together in summer still have a fresh taste when made into soup on a cold winter's day.
Ah, memories of the taste of fresh sweet white corn. I never have gotten tired of it and I doubt I ever will.