Friday, February 16, 2007

Corn on the Cob

This was the worst cob of fresh sweetcorn that I have ever tasted. But then again, I have been spoilt.

Sweetcorn was one of the main food crops of the farms around where grew up and I have eaten a lot of wonderful fresh cobs in my life. During corn season, it was quite common to stop at one of the local farm-gate stands to pick up a dozen or two freshly picked ears. Anything else that we had for dinner that night was secondary to the main course of corn. The corn season lasted a few months and by the end of it we had had our fill and were content to wait until the next season.

One of the big events of every year was our family reunion, which was simply known as "The Corn Roast" - a more accurate name, though less poetic, would have been "The Corn Boil". The event took place at my great uncle's farm in the fertile farming region of South-Western Ontario. Every year a bunch of us would head into one of the local fields, pick a lot of corn, then race back to the party, husk it, cook it then eat it quickly. We stuck to the idea that when you want to eat fresh sweetcorn, first you put the pot of water on to boil, then you walk out to pick the cobs and run back. Like many of the best summer vegetables the sugars in sweetcorn begin to change to starch as soon as they are picked. Breeders over the years have produced hybrid and super-sweet varieties, that last a lot longer, but nothing compares to the quality and taste of fresh picked sweetcorn.

Sure, we had a lot of frozen and canned kernels of sweetcorn in between, but when I first moved to Ireland, I was slightly shocked when served frozen sweetcorn still on the cob. Ireland is not a big sweetcorn growing country and this was apparently considered the best option. It was disgusting stuff, chewy and tough with none of the pleasure of fresh sweetcorn, and even worse than canned corn. I have eaten more of it since, but have never warmed to the experience, preferring to wait until our trips to Canada coincided with sweetcorn season. Until recently, I had never eaten a fresh cob of sweetcorn that was not local and in season.

A few weeks ago I went out and bought a package of two "fresh" cobs of sweetcorn, flown in from South Africa! Trust me, I had a good reason. I was due to start teaching an extra-curricular gardening class to some of the kids at my daughter's school and I was preparing an exercise that involved a wide variety of different seeds and a correspondingly wide variety of different vegetables. The object of the day was to have them work out which seeds became which foods - relatively easy with sweetcorn, but a difficult task with cabbages and other brassicas. The kids would also be able to see that certain foods can be grouped together if their seeds were similar. A lot of the effect of this lesson would have been lost if I had used photos of the vegetables, and I wanted to make this a hands on experience, with hopefully a bit of tasting, as these were the foods that they would be growing.

So, I went on a shopping spree to buy all sorts of fresh vegetables that were not in season, including the cobs of corn mentioned above, to add to the vegetables from my own allotment. I even picked up some fresh peas in the pod, French beans and runner beans which I have not bought in years because I find them so much better tasting fresh from my allotment that I have stopped buying them, even when they are in season locally.

When I got home with my food-mile heavy purchases, I found out that the class had been postponed for at least a week! There were a few bureaucratic issues that needed to be cleared up and some health and safety concerns, which was fair enough given that the classes were to be held in a disused garden, part of which had become heavily overgrown. Well, one week quickly turned into a postponement of at least a month, until the entire site was completely cleared and planted. I was left with a lot of food that I otherwise would not have purchased, which would not last, and instead of letting it all go to waste, we ate it, of course. The peas were actually not too bad considering their age, most of the rest was mediocre, but the cobs of corn were horrible. I do not know how long ago the corn was picked, but perhaps the experience of buying them for an unfulfilled cause added a bit of bitterness to their taste.


Anonymous said...

corn, and this week tomatoes and some lovely pumpkins. You just live in the wrong hemisphere!


Bruce Darrell said...

Perhaps I live in the wrong hemisphere, but north and south both have their warm and cold seasons. The main problem is that I live too far north to be able to grow corn (or tomatoes) easily. In the past I have not put in the effort to grow corn, but this year I am going to give it some more attention - both at my allotment and in a polytunnel that I have access to!

Camlin said...

Good words.