Corn is one of the true heralds of summer in the Northeast and a defining crop for Hudson Valley agriculture.
As one of the most fervently anticipated consumer crops, sweet corn is tantamount to summer barbecues, picnics, and parties. Most often served on the cob, it can be steamed, grilled, boiled, or roasted, then rolled in butter and dusted with salt and herbs. However, believe it or not, many farmers feel that the best way to eat corn is raw.
Loretta Scaturro, co-owner of the Apple Bin in Ulster Park says, “As soon as the sun comes out, people are looking for corn. Maybe the yellow sun reminds them of the maize-colored corn. Whatever it is, people definitely associate corn with summer and barbequing.” Although they grow fruit for their farm market, Scaturro says they do carry out-of-season corn from out-of-state, adding, “But the customers really want the real deal and wait for the Hudson Valley’s finest.”
A family farm for generations, the Walkill View Farm in New Paltz not only grows bi-color sweet corn, but according to Danica Ferrante, whose grandparents started the farm, starting in July the corn is picked fresh every morning. Ferrante says, “And it’s not picked by machine—we pick it by hand. Our weekenders and visitors from all around say it’s some of the best corn they’ve ever had.” She added Walkill View Farm corn is definitely not genetically modified and she’s one of those many farmers who say: “I prefer it raw—it’s so tender, you don’t even need to cook it.”
Chris Kelder, owner of one of the oldest farms in the valley, Kelder's Farms, shared a tidbit on how to recognize when corn is perfect for picking: “When corn is ripe it’ll come off the stalk easy when you pull the ear down towards the ground—that’s the way you can tell it’s ready.” Kelder finds corn to be fascinating. Why?
“Corn is an interesting crop because without the corn silk tassel, there’d be no kernel. The corn silk is like a fallopian tube.”
Corn is always hand-picked at Kelder's and natural, (no GMOs) bi-color crops are planted twice a week throughout summer to have enough to satisfy the many folks that come from far and wide for Hudson Valley corn. Kelder explains why the Valley is so perfect for corn: “It’s our fertile soil and the climate is just right.”
Once the season gets underway, corn consumption becomes a virtual institution. There’s nary a roadside stand, farmers’ market, or supermarket that doesn’t feature a bin of corn as their highlighted harvest, all to be brought home for the many mouth-watering ways to imbibe—from raw and steamed to barbequed and, in a pinch, microwaved in the husks. It’s hard to fathom such a simple plant has such a history. From an ancestry spawned from an inedible wild grass to the savory sweetness that makes folks salivate, corn has become quite the celebrity.
Jack Schoonmaker’s Method of Cooking Corn
As a farmer at one of oldest farms in the Hudson Valley, Jack is quite the expert on cooking corn. After all, his family has been growing it for generations. Says Jack, “It’s simple. Put the shucked ears of corn into a large pot. Make sure the corn is completely covered by the water and bring to a boil. Wait eight minutes, and you’ll have the perfect corn.”
◊ The average ear has 800 kernels arranged in 16 rows, but it can have between 8 and 22 rows—and always an even number of rows on each ear. There’s also one piece of silk for every kernel.
◊ Cornstarch is made into high-fructose corn syrup that was used to make liquor, once called moonshine. Why? Because it was typically made at night as it was illegal at that time. However, bourbon was legal and that’s a type of whiskey that's been distilled from at least 51 percent corn mash. Go figure.
◊ Corn cob jelly is made from, guess what? Corn cobs.
◊ Corn has an incredibly long shelf life. Archeologists have been able to pop 1,000-year-old popcorn.
◊ Corn silk is used to make tea to combat urinary tract infections.
◊ Heard of grits? Not so popular in the north, but grits are a corn-based porridge made from coarse stone-ground corn.
◊ Did you know that the water in a popcorn kernel is what makes it pop? When heat is applied, the water that exists inside the kernel becomes steam and expands, eventually breaking the hard outer covering of the kernel and turning it inside out. The soft starch of the interior becomes fluffy and white after the tiny explosion.
◊ The world record for eating corn on the cob is 33½ ears in 12 minutes, held by Cookie Jarvis. Wonder if she holds the record for cookie-eating also?
◊ Fresh corn freezes well if placed in heavy-duty freezer bags. To prepare whole ears for freezing, blanch them first for five minutes. Frozen whole corn on the cob will keep for up to one year.
◊ One serving of corn provides 25 percent of your daily requirement of Vitamin B1; 18 percent of folate for production of red blood cells; 15 percent of the mineral phosphorus; 15 percent of manganese; and 16 percent of vitamin C.
◊ Did you know that corn evolved from a wild, inedible grass?
◊ Corn comes in five varieties: field corn for livestock feed; popcorn for snacking; food-grade corn used to make numerous food products, including corn bread and tortillas; sweet corn, our favorite summertime treat; and seed corn grown specifically for the kernels to be planted for next year’s crop.
◊ As a food product, corn—along with beans and squash—was once revered by the ancestors of the Native American Iroquois and were called the “Three Sisters.”