“Go ahead, take a bite,” said farmer Joe Barsczewski, handing me an ear of just-picked corn.
“You mean eat it right now, without cooking it?” I asked Joe, who’s been farming 22 acres of land on the outskirts of the North Fork, Long Island town of Greenport for the last 14 years. I was dubious even though the perfectly aligned yellow kernels appeared sparklingly fresh.
Joe, who also grows potatoes, eggplants, tomatoes and other summer crops, emptied a bushel of ears onto the stand, eying me as I took a tentative bite. Though I expected the kernels’ texture to be leathery and tough, the perky yellow globes were unexpectedly crunchy and moist—and so full of flavor they exploded in my mouth with a jolt of sugary bliss. Even that Hallowe’en perennial, candy corn, couldn’t compete with this bit of vegetable heaven.
It's January, and if you’re like me, you’re dreaming of fresh corn from the farm. On the North Fork of Long Island, an area that is two hours from New York City and dotted with farms and vineyards, Joe is just one of more than a dozen farmers who offer up impeccably fresh corn and other vegetables.
On the North Folk, there’s always plenty of fresh sweet corn at most summer markets. But if you live in an area with few farm markets, don’t despair. Some supermarkets carry local corn, even at this time of year. And there are plenty of great ways to prepare corn—a crop native to the Americas—that don’t require the just-picked variety. In fact, you can easily use frozen corn in many corn-based recipes. And though most people eat corn because it’s delicious, it’s also a good source of dietary fiber. Corn also contains some important vitamins and minerals, including phosphorus, magnesium, iron and selenium, Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Niacin, and Riboflavin. So let’s hear it for corn!
Here are some ways to prepare this healthy and tasty vegetable:
1. Eat it Raw. If the corn has just been picked, chomp on it uncooked. But be sure that the corn has been harvested that day and preferably just a few hours before you purchased it. To eat a raw ear of corn, simply husk it and rinse it in some cool water to remove the corn silk. Then just enjoy.
2. Steam It. There are many schools of corn cooking. Some people heat up a big pot of water and toss in the corn, cooking it for a few minutes until done. My preferred method is to put only a couple of inches of water in the pot and steam the corn. Using this method, the corn is done in 2-3 minutes.
3. Grill it. In the summer when you’re using the grill for burgers, hot dogs, chicken and fish, it’s easy to toss on a few ears of corn. Farmer Joe recommends soaking the ears first in water for about 10 minutes, before placing them on the grill. In effect, you’re steaming the corn while grilling it. With this method, which includes turning the corn a couple of times, I allow four-to-five minutes for cooking, depending upon the size of the corn. When the husks turn brown and crisp, the corn is done.
4. Make it into cornbread. Especially in the winter, cornbread is deeply satisfying. Whatever recipe you use, enliven it with whole kernels of corn. Defrost a package of kernels, then add it to the corn bread batter. This technique adds crunch and interest to your corn bread
5. Make it into ice cream. How can you possibly beat the combination of ice cream and corn? Corn ice cream is a delicious summer treat, a perfect finish to your barbecue.
Sweet Corn Ice Cream
Claudia Fleming is one of America’s great pastry chefs. These days, you can find the former Gramercy Tavernpastry chef and her luscious desserts at the North Fork Table and Inn in Southold on Long Island’s North Fork.
Ingredients: 4 ears of sweet summer corn (preferably white); 2 c whole milk ;2 c heavy cream; ¾ c granulated sugar ; 8 large egg yolks
Method: Slice the kernels off the corncobs and place in a large saucepot. Break the cobs into thirds and add them to the pot along with the milk, cream and half the sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil. Remove from the heat and remove the corncobs.
Using an immersion blender, puree the corn. Return the cobs to the pot to infuse for approximately one hour.
Bring the mixture back to the heat and allow it to come to a scald. Turn off the heat. In a small bowl whisk the yolks with the remaining sugar. Slowly add 1 cup of the corn mixture to the yolks whisking constantly. Add the yolk mixture to the saucepot whisking. Cook over medium low heat, stirring continuously with a heatproof rubber spatula until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Pass the custard through a fine sieve, pressing down on the solids; discard solids. Cool custard in an ice bath, then cover and chill at least 4 hours. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Laura Weiss is a print and online journalist and the author of Ice Cream: A Global History (Reaktion Books, forthcoming). She edits the New York food news website www.foodandthings.com.