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
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.
On Wednesday: Peaches