We’re all looking forward to having crisp, juicy locally-grown sweet corn! Gardeners who grow their own sweet corn know the joy of harvesting this fresh delicacy right into the cooking pot. There’s nothing tastier! Dripping with melted butter, salt and fresh cracked pepper, we’d prefer it over any candy.
For those of you without your own home-grown supply, the challenge is finding fresh sweet corn that has been properly handled, since sweet corn loses its sweetness and crispness very rapidly unless it’s handled exactly right. This is why buying it at roadside stands and even the supermarket produce aisle can be a real gamble.
Sweet corn is highly perishable, perhaps more so than any other vegetable, and it can be difficult to tell before buying if it will be ideally crisp and sweet. It must be cooled immediately and thoroughly after harvest, and kept cool until cooking, or it will suffer serious loss of sweetness and tenderness.
Ideally, corn should be picked by hand at dawn. Even then, its internal temperature can be as high as 80 degrees, at which temperature it very rapidly loses moisture, and its sugar changes to starch. The kernel wall toughens and the husk loses its green color.
Sweet corn that’s allowed to sit at room temperature for even one day is a totally different eating experience from fresh, well-cooled sweet corn. If it’s sitting on the table at a roadside stand, or, worse yet, allowed to sit in the sun, it is likely to be mealy, chewy and starchy-tasting by the time it’s served.
The ideal storage temperature for sweet corn is 33 degrees, and the ideal humidity is over ninety percent. At near-freezing temperatures, modern hybrid sweet corn will stay fresh and sweet for up to a week. The key is to rapidly cool the corn as soon as it’s picked, and keep it at a constant temperature just above freezing. Long shanks and flag leaves, which draw moisture from kernels, should be trimmed. Soaking the ears in ice water for a few minutes before storing them in your refrigerator is an ideal way to rapidly lower the internal temperature, because this method of quick cooling doesn’t draw moisture from the kernels the way refrigerator cooling will. The extra trouble will reward you with a dramatically crisp, sweet, country gourmet treat.
Modern hydro-cooling, transportation networks and produce distribution allow supermarkets to offer fresh sweet corn (although we often see it displayed on tables at room temperature), so buying produce from stores with refrigeration is a better bet than most roadside stands. Freshly picked sweet corn from your own garden is the ideal, if you handle it carefully.
It’s well worth seeking out locally-grown sweet corn, picking it up in the morning as soon as possible after harvest. We get ours from the Sugar Tree Ridge Amish community; Sunrise Produce or the Fair Ridge Farm Market in southern Highland County. We go there early in the morning with a picnic hamper pre-cooled with some ice, and transfer the fresh ears to our home fridge right away. This extra attention pays off with a truly superior eating experience.
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are on the “Garden Advice” page at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information is available at www.goodseedfarm.com or call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.