Finding sweet corn

(Picture courtesy of Robert Couse-Baker at flickr.com.)

The season for sweet corn in NW PA and nearby NY state has begun, let the side of the road stands go bananas!  Okay, wrong sort of simile there, but it’s the time of year when truckfulls of sweet corn appear on roadsides, and produce sales beside the road have their heyday.

Sweet corn is more than just food, it’s got a long history in this country as well.

Sweet corn occurs as a spontaneous mutation in field corn and was grown by several Native American tribes. The Iroquois gave the first recorded sweet corn (called Papoon) to European settlers in 1779.[2] It soon became a popular food in southern and central regions of the United States.

The growing season started back in March, or even earlier, snow still on the ground, when sweet corn growers till deep into their soil and begin to prepare for what we’re experiencing now.    The corn is sewn as soon as possible, because it takes a long time to mature.   It’s well worth the wait.

Sweet corn is a warm season crop requiring a minimum soil temperature of 50˚F (60-95˚F is optimum) for seed germination. Seed should not be planted earlier than 10 days to 2 weeks after the average date of the last killing frost. If planted too early, poor stands, retarded growth, or frost-killed seedlings may result. However, it may be worthwhile to risk the chance of frost in order to get an early crop.

Two long rows at the minimum will be needed, since air pollination means there have to be enough plants to produce full ears.   Sweet corn can’t be planted alongside the more common feed corn, which grows more easily and is much cultivated for cattle and other animal feed.   It will not develop the good taste of sweet corn if it’s cross-pollinated.

Here, we’re waiting for the seed we brought back from TX, called ‘peaches and cream’, to develop and the ears are just tassled  and filling out.   The long cold winter was hard to wait out, and we’re not sure it will do as well as local varieties.   We’ll fill in from the nearby produce stands down the road.

Cooking varies according to your taste, but I like to take off the outer shucks, remove the strings, butter the ear, then put back on some of the shucks and wrap in aluminum foil.   Cooking in the oven is okay, but putting the corn on the cooler outside of the grill is my favorite method.   Boiling or baking is fine, too.

Enjoy your sweet corn however you choose, but if you don’t get some soon, you won’t have the best of the crop.   Now is the time to get your taste of a very good thing.