28 August 2009

Phyllotactic defect in corn kernels

Kernels on a cob of corn, showing an interesting phyllotactic defect where regular columns of kernels suddenly make a checkerboard pattern and then revert to columns again.
Yesterday we got our first fresh sweet corn from the local farmers' market, and like the one illustrated above, it was the bicolor variety, which we favor.

As soon as corn is picked from the stalk, the natural sugars begin to convert to starch, so people who buy days-old corn from grocery store bins never learn how great it can taste. You should buy it from a farmer who has picked it that morning; even better is to pick it yourself in the field and run (don't walk) with it to the kitchen where you have the water already boiling or the microwave already preset.

When I was in high school my second paid summer job (after a diastrous effort to sell woolen clothes door-to-door in July) was at the Green Giant packing plant in Le Sueur, Minnesota, where I lubricated the cookers and watched the line for dented cans coming out of the canning machine. We worked 12-hour shifts at minimum wage (and no work/no pay on rainy days if the trucks couldn't get into the field), but once a week they would bring a truckload of corn, dump it into garbage cans into which steam was fed, and provided tubs of butter...

Photo credit: Stephen W. Morris' Flickr photostream, via Suddenly.


  1. "Even better is to pick it yourself in the field and run (don't walk) with it to the kitchen where you have the water already boiling..."

    This gave me a chuckle. My late mother, who grew up on a farm in Ohio in the nineteen-teens, described the celebratory cornfests they used to have exactly this way: the hired men (as she called them) would go pick the corn, then run to where huge cauldrons of water were boiling on fires in the yard, shuck the ears, and dump them in. Everybody else--families gathered from around the area--sat at long trestle tables under the trees, ready to dig in when the platters of steaming corn were passed.

    And that was all there was to eat, nothing but corn (and home-churned butter, natch). Maybe some homemade ice cream for dessert.

    I like very young white corn; the mixed white-and-yellow kernels are too sweet for me. I cut off the tassels and pull off the loose outer leaves and microwave the ears, in their inner leaves, on High for about two minutes, max. Most people, in my experience, way overcook it.

    Of course, I don't have hired men running to bring me the corn fresh from the field, but what I get at the farmer's market and cook as soon as I can get it home is awfully durn good.

  2. I grew a small patch of corn this year for the first time in a long time.
    I only got a few good ears, but they were delicious.
    Next year we are going to grow a lot more.

  3. Yum. Fresh, local sugar & gold corn!

  4. Last summer I had an opportunity to pick corn for the first time. At the farmer's suggestion, we ate a few ears RAW as we stood in the field. Not only did I not know that you could eat raw corn, but this stuff (I believe the variety was Bodacious Corn) was so good, putting butter on it was nearly sacrilege....

    1. You might enjoy reading this HuffPo Slash/food column -


  5. I second the eating of raw corn in the field... strip the husk and silk from the ear prior to separating it from the stalk. Eat immediately. AKA "raccoon style" corn.


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