“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower
Summer and sweetcorn are inseparable in my mind. What backyard barbecue doesn’t include this staple, which appears in abundance this time of year?
Buying ears of corn at a grocery store or a farmer’s market is one thing. But picking it off the stalks in your own cornfield is quite another. I discovered this first-hand when I decided to grow my own corn. It was a process that began with much enthusiasm. I headed down to my local Southern States in early spring to buy the seeds and – with the help of my parents – planted two rows of early sweetcorn. I watched the stalks grow and the ears develop. Then, seemingly overnight, it was time to harvest.
Mother Nature really outdid herself. I gathered an entire wheelbarrow full of corn on my first pass through the garden, more than 160 ears. Mom and dad helped shuck it and remove the silks, which is the first step in preserving the harvest.
Unfortunately, I started late in the day, which turned out to be a mistake. Shucking and removing the silks is only the first step. I decided to cut the corn off the cob and freeze it in freezer bags; I don’t have room to store whole ears. And while I started the process with gusto, I admit that I was exhausted by the time I finished at 10 p.m.! As is often the case, though, it was worth the effort.
Here’s how you prepare sweetcorn for the freezer. It’s basically an assembly line process. First, you need to shuck and clean the corn. Then start a large pot of boiling water on the stove. Prepare an ice bath in a large pan or a clean sink. You should also place racks or towels in a location where you can let the corn dry after you remove it from the ice bath.
Drop the ears into the pot of boiling water for approximately six minutes, then place them into the ice bath to stop the cooking process. Blanching basically halts the sugar-converting enzymes in the corn and helps maintain that sweetcorn flavor after freezing. Once the ears have cooled, move them to racks or place them on towels to dry.
This is the easy part. For me, the most difficult part was cutting the corn off the cob. I set up my operation outside on the deck because — believe me — this is a messy process. By the time I was done, corn was everywhere, including in my hair!
As I cut the corn off the cob, I thought about my father. By the time I had handled more than 100 ears, I was tempted to get sloppy, leaving some kernels and just discarding the cob. I was tired and the process had truly become a chore. But I felt guilty about this because of the way my father approaches this task. Having grown up in eastern Kentucky where his family lived off what they grew, he learned to be meticulous about getting every single kernel off the cob. “Waste not, want not,” is his mantra. I tried to keep that in mind as the job became tedious.
I know that some people use a cutting board and cut down the cob, but I did it the way my father taught me, holding the ear with one hand and cutting from the small end to the larger end. I managed to get through 160 ears with only one minor knick. At the end of the evening, I was rewarded with 14 quarts of sweetcorn. I packed them away in my freezer to enjoy when summertime passes away and the flavor of fresh sweetcorn is a just a tasty memory.