"An Ear of Corn," Carol Crump Bryner, pen and colored pencil, 2014

“An Ear of Corn,” Carol Crump Bryner, pen and colored pencil, 2014

My grandfather, a man of few words, looked up from the bags of corn he was husking as he sat on the porch swing, and muttered, “Corn, corn, corn.”

It does start to get a little old. After the excitement of the first ears of summer and the exclamations about the sweetness of this batch compared to that batch, the abundance of late summer corn can be overwhelming, especially on a farm.

One of the ways my family varied the corn diet was to make succotash. I’ve never really understood succotash. Why ruin a perfectly good bowl of corn by adding beans to it? But my mother and her family loved succotash, and my grandmother made it frequently. Her succotash was very plain – lima beans, corn, salt, pepper, and butter. The secret, my mother told me, was to scrape the “milk” from the cob after cutting off the kernels.

Saturday, August 6, 1921 – “Nice day. Men working at hay at Peterland. Corn is coming & potatoes are looking nice on the hill lot. Busy times for everyone now, gathering in the products of the farms. Lilla our good neighbor sent us some sweet corn of which Agnes made us some nice succotash. Ellsworth’s corn is nearly ready to pick for eating.” – Lydia Jane Hall

Tuesday, August 16, 1921 – “Agnes and Lydia went over to Durham, took over some succotash and a nice apple pie, some potatoes & corn – two loaves of bread & a cake for which they were very thankful.” – Lydia Jane Hall

"A Bowl of Succotash," Carol Crump Bryner,1992

“A Bowl of Succotash,” Carol Crump Bryner, 1992

Everyone has theories about corn – how long to cook it (my brother says to boil it until the steam smells like corn, my husband claims 12 minutes to be ideal) – how to store it – how to butter it – and how to eat it (I employ the typewriter carriage method starting at one end and eating three rows at time, then pushing the carriage back to the beginning and starting over – my husband eats it round and round like the gears of a clock) – and how to make it last through the winter.

My parents had strong opinions about the handling of fresh sweet corn. Dinner conversation in summer was punctuated by pronouncements about the freshness, sweetness, and toughness/tenderness of the corn. My dad subscribed to the theory that husking should be done immediately. He claimed that sweetness seeped from the corn into the husks if you left them on too long. One summer, when I was visiting my parents, my cousin Sue and I went to Lyman Orchards where she bought a bagful of corn to take home to grill (in the husks) for dinner. After storing it in our refrigerator to stay cool until she drove home, Sue and I sat outside with my mother drinking tea and having an afternoon chat. Meanwhile, my father, horrified to find un-husked corn in the fridge, pulled it out and stripped it naked thinking he was doing my cousin an enormous favor.

My mother spent September days carefully blanching, cutting, scraping, and freezing corn. She was very particular about the process, and I have to admit that I’ve never tasted frozen corn as good as hers. In the winter she rationed these bags of gold – one per week – and heated the contents over a double boiler. She put a chunk of butter on top, and stirred the kernels gently as they thawed. To eat that corn at a Sunday dinner in December was to taste summer all over again. Only better.

Our grandson, who is sweeter than all the sweet corn in the world, came to spend the afternoon with us after a recent Sunday visit to the local farmers’ market. We husked the corn we had bought, and it was so lovely that I wanted to preserve it on paper. Henry helped me choose the colors, and I showed him how to squeeze just the right amount of paint onto the palette and how to wet the brush before picking up the color. We painted the kernels together, and he painted the “green parts” a very bright green. When I asked him to sign his name he insisted that we needed to add more facts. And so we did. Opinions about corn and about art start early, and I’m happy to encourage them.

"Henry and Carol Made a Picture of Corn," Henry Thomas Kennedy and Carol Crump Bryner, 2014

“Henry and Carol Made a Picture of Corn,” Henry Thomas Kennedy and Carol Crump Bryner, 2014

On Wednesday:  Peaches

8 thoughts on “Corn

  1. Bonny Headley

    My farm-raised mother claimed was in your father’s camp. Her method was to get the water boiling, then pick the corn, RUN from the garden to the kitchen, husking as fast as possible, and boil 8 minutes, no more! I have memories of following her trail picking up the husks that littered her path. The debate about how to best capture the sweetness of fresh corn was spirited and my parents friends fell into camps. Sugar in the water was heresy in my home, but some families did stoop to that.

    Painting the corn never occurred to us, but I am sure making that corn painting will become a cherished memory for Henry of his dear grandmother. What great fun!
    The paintin

    1. Carol Post author

      It’s funny you should mention the “sugar in the water” heresy, because that was one of my mother’s tricks when she thought the corn was too old. And now, just out of habit, I do the same thing. Not sure if it works or not, but I just do it automatically, as if my mom were there saying, “Carol – put a little sugar in the water.”

  2. Michael Foster

    I’m with you on the typewriter method – neat and even the whole way across. Anything else just seems wrong. There was always great excitement when the first corn came in, and our family too had discussions about its tenderness, freshness and sweetness. I don’t know if Butter and Sugar corn was always with us or if my memory is just hazy when I think that it we only had the all yellow ears when I was young. There was general agreement that this was superior to the monotone variety. There was great disagreement, however, about Silver Queen. Some couldn’t wait for it to arrive as it was always late ripening. I always thought that it was missing something. It was certainly sweet and tender, but not “corny” enough. Somehow, the new varieties are coning in earlier and earlier. Jill says that it used to be that the first ears were picked for her birthday on July 21, and Ellsworth’s apparently wasn’t quite ready on August 6. We can now count on it for the first week in July. This is exciting and appreciated but with just a little nagging question of “how they’re doing that.” Corn is an integral part of summer. Thanks.

    1. Carol Post author

      Yes, how are they doing that? The other thing I remember is the Kranyak’s battle to beat the raccoons to the corn. The raccoons seemed to know the exact moment when it would be ripe enough to pick, and managed to attack it the night before John and Jack were going to start their harvest.

  3. Karen Dederick Kowalski

    So many memories of the traditions of eating fresh corn. At Gaylord we had a field just across the big lawn area, pick then husk, sitting on the back porch stairs before entering the kitchen. My father was very particular about removing all the silk. I am not so fussy, but I do still love fresh corn, although the local corn ended in early July here in the Arizona desert, now it comes in from Colorado. A very short season for local corn and that is one thing I do miss about CT where some years I could get fresh corn in early Oct.

    1. Carol Post author

      In Alaska we never know where the corn has come from. But most likely not from Alaska.
      It was always a treat for me when I went to visit my parents in late September or early October, and neighbors would bring us the late ripening corn right from the field.

  4. Katy Gilmore

    I’m trying to imagine living where fresh corn became a bother! We do have corn coming in the CSA later today grown a few miles away, it will be small and very delicious – and a rare treat. Our corn comes from east of the mountains as they say in Washington, not growing so well on the Pacific side of the state. I love all the corn rules in this post, and best of all – the images. I like picturing you and Henry at work on those kernels – and what a dear he is to include those “facts.” I like a picture with facts.

  5. Carol Post author

    Henry is a dear, and a very observant little boy. I complained to him about the brightness of his green, but he said, no, it was like that, and then when we were next at the farmer’s market I noticed that really the green husk is often more that color than olive, so he was right again.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *