Friday, June 14, 2013

How To Choose An Ear of Corn ... for reals

One day last summer, when I was in the supermarket shopping for corn and peeling back a few inches of husk on a few ears, a 30-something looking woman approached me and asked me what I look for when I buy.

I was a little dumbfounded; it's not something that was ever explained to me in words. I learned by watching my mom. Often she let me ride shotgun to the base of West Mountain, where a small farm stand opened every July-August. She'd grab an ear, peel back enough husk to view about 25% of the surface, and if she wanted that ear, she'd throw it in a paper bag.

By watching, and often by being given shucking duties (it was great fun and a privilege to be handed such an important task under age 10. Later on, not so much) I learned to recognize what she was looking for and what the final product would taste like when the crisp, bright, green outer leaves, the  softer, lighter inner husk and silk were done away with.  What came to the table was a super sweet and mildly savory cob with a light crunch and clean finish.
It seemed like such a natural thing, I thought everyone learned the way I did. So when that woman at Harris Teeter was in standing front of me waiting on a good answer, all I could think to say was something along the lines of, "well, it's hard to say, exactly ... I like small kernels." Which is true: I do look for ears with smaller kernels. The skin isn't as thick and maybe that gives it that tell-tale translucent look that the ear is ripe, and its sugar hasn't turned over to starch. If you take a good look at the above pic — from this afternoon's stop at a West Meade area farm stand — you can get an idea of what I mean.

I'm a honey & cream fan. If there's no mix, I'll go with yellow; I've been told that white corn, Silver Queen is what we have in the Nashville area, is sweeter but only in 1 out of 5 tries have I ever found it to be so. Cobs with super-bright, big yellow kernels are what my mom would have called "cow corn," destined to wind up in feed lots. My mom was far more discriminating about corn than cows are.

And so am I. Pass on that stuff.