top of page
  • Writer's pictureChef Kelly Unger

An Ode to Sweet Corn

Fresh sweet corn is in season and I am happier than Augustus Gloop at a candy factory. I never tire of eating corn on the cob. It’s a blank canvas for any flavor toppings, though I rarely tire of a generous coating of salted butter because the quality of our local corn is so good. But any spice blend and any cheese just gilds the lily.

According to North Dakota State University: “Corn as we know it today would not exist if it weren't for the humans that cultivated and developed it. It is a human invention, a plant that does not exist naturally in the wild. It can only survive if planted and protected by humans.

Scientists believe people living in central Mexico developed corn at least 7000 years ago. It was started from a wild grass called teosinte. Teosinte looked very different from our corn today. The kernels were small and were not placed close together like kernels on the husked ear of modern corn. Also known as maize, Indians throughout North and South America eventually depended upon this crop for much of their food.

From Mexico maize spread north into the Southwestern United States and south down the coast to Peru. About 1000 years ago, as Indian people migrated north to the eastern woodlands of present day North America, they brought corn with them.

When Europeans like Columbus made contact with people living in North and South America, corn was a major part of the diet of most native people. When Columbus "discovered" America, he also discovered corn. But up to this time, people living in Europe did not know about corn.

The first Thanksgiving was held in 1621. While sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie were not on the menu, Indian corn certainly would have been.” History.html

Corn is very nutritious as well as being a very useful and useable plant crop. The corn husks are used for tamales, the silks can be used for medicinal tea, the kernels for food, and the stalks for animal feed. So while we need to credit the Mexicans for creating the sweet corn we know and for “corn on the cob” as we know it and equally the Indigenous tribes for keeping it alive here, since the founding of our country, corn has been a part of our American cuisine. Other countries use corn as a grain and eating it on the cob is not really done. Americans have explored every way to make use of those delicious yellow and white kernels.

Corn has somehow gotten a bad rap nutritionally speaking and that is unfair. According to the Mayo Clinic Health System: “Corn has many health benefits. It consists primarily of insoluble fiber, which makes it a low-glycemic index food. This means it is a food that is digested slowly and doesn't cause an unhealthy spike in blood sugar.

It also contains many B vitamins, as well as essential minerals, including zinc, magnesium, copper, iron and manganese. Since corn is considered a starchy vegetable, people with diabetes need to keep in mind that a half cup of corn, or a small ear of corn, contains 15 grams of carbohydrate and counts as one carbohydrate food choice.”

What I love about corn, after its flavor, is its versatility. It can be the savory or sweet star of the show or an added pop of flavor and nutrition in a dish. It responds well to every method of cooking and preserving - from freezing to drying to canning.

At the end of the season, which thankfully we are nowhere near, I love to freeze fresh corn that I cut right off the cob. I lay the kernels out on a sheet pan in a single layer, pop them in the freezer for an hour until each kernel has fully frozen, then I transfer them to a zip top freezer bag - to be opened on Thanksgiving day. It’s actually become a treasured ritual for me. I usually freeze two dozen ears of corn but at least one dozen is enough for our Thanksgiving meal. I also freeze the cobs to be used throughout the Winter to fortify soups with delicious corn flavor.

A very popular way to indulge in the corn on the cob experience is with Mexican Street Corn - Elote , corn on the cob topped with a Mexican crema, Mexican cotija cheese, chili powder and a squeeze of fresh lime - a creamy, zesty, spicy, cheesy flavor bomb!

Here's a fun collection of corn recipes to take you through the seasons:

20 Fresh Corn and Cornmeal Desserts from Epicurious . All of these recipes look amazing but the standout for me and the one I’ll be trying is the Skillet Corn Cake with Stewed Cherries . I’ve seen recipes similar to this with slices of fresh peaches placed on top of the cake before baking and also an upside down version of this with peaches.

I love combining peaches, and any fruit that is in season, with fresh corn in green salads. I love grilling corn either in the husk or without the husk. But when I’m really in a hurry and I just want to make one or two ears of corn on the cob, my favorite trick is to microwave the corn in the husk. I cut off the end with a knife, leaving a nice flat wide bottom, microwave two ears for 5 minutes, then grab the top or silk end of the corn with a paper towel, stab the flat cut end with a fork and pull the husk and silk off with one gentle easy tug.

I also love to saute kernels that I have cut off the cob in olive oil with a diced onion and top it with cheese when it’s off the heat. So, enjoy corn in every way possible this season - on the cob, in soup, on salad, in desserts and remember to freeze it for Thanksgiving!

176 views0 comments


bottom of page