Fresh Sweet Corn

Sweet Corn

Fresh sweet corn, eaten on the cob with salt and a little butter is deliciously sweet. Some gardeners who grow it to have a pan ready on the boil, so that when they cut the corn it goes into the pan in only the time it takes to race up from the garden to the kitchen. Buying it from the supermarket is inevitably a bit hit-or-miss, although if purchased in season, sweet corn can be very good indeed.

History : Corn originated in South America and had enormous significance to the native Indians of the whole continent, who were said to have lived and died by corn. They referred to it as their "first mother and father, the source of life". By far their most important food, corn was used in many other ways as well. They used the plant for their shelters and for fences, and they wore it and decorated their bodies with it. The Aztecs had corn planting ceremonies that included human sacrifices, and other tribes had similar customs to appease the god "corn". Countless myths and legends have been woven around corn, each tribe telling a slightly different story, but each on the same theme of planting and harvesting corn. For anthropologists and historians, they make compelling study.

Nutrition : Corn is a good carbohydrate food and is rich in vitamins A, B and C. It contains protein, but less so than most other cereals. It is also a good source of potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and iron.

Varieties : There are five main varieties of corn - popcorn, sweet corn, dent corn, flint corn and flour corn. Dent corn is the most commonly grown worldwide, for animal feeds and oil, and the corn we eat on the corn is sweet corn. Baby sweet corn cobs are picked when immature and are cooked and eaten whole.

Buying and Storing : As soon as corn is picked, its sugar begins to turn to starch and therefore the sooner it goes into the pot, the better. Whenever possible, buy locally grown sweet corn. Look for husks that are clean and green and tassels which are golden, with no sigh of matting. The corn itself should look plump and yellow. Avoid cobs with pale or white kernels or those with older shriveled kernels which will undoubtedly be disappointing.

Preparing : Strip away the husks. To use the kernels for recipes, cut downwards using a sharp knife from top to bottom.

Cooking : Cook corn-on-the-cob in plenty of boiling salted water until tender. Timing depends on the size of the cobs but 10-15 minutes will normally be enough. Serve them with sea salt and butter, but if the cobs are really sweet, leave out the butter. Stir-fry baby sweet corn cobs briefly and serve in oriental dishes.

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