“… Pray what more can a reasonable man desire, in peaceful times, in ordinary noons, than a sufficient number of ears of green sweet corn…”
—Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854)
My friend Ronnie telephoned the other day. He wanted me to check out his garden. It was nice. There were several varieties of melon, peas, and beans— the usual suspects. Its size was manageable, there weren’t too many weeds and everything seemed in order.
“Come over here,” he said. “This is what I called you about.”
He was holding an ear of corn he had just picked. As he peeled back the shucks and stripped the silk from the kernels, I asked what type of corn he had planted.
“I can’t remember,” he said, “just try it.”
I took a bite of the corn. It was sweet, and delicate, and moist. As the juice ran down my cheeks to my neck and finally to my shirt collar, I took another bite, and then another, and then another. I stood there in the sweltering mid-day heat, among four short, manicured rows of stalks, and ate the entire ear, raw.
I had eaten raw corn before. A few times during my failed attempt at gardening, I had picked an ear and taken a bite or two. It was O.K., nothing memorable.
Ronnie’s corn was different. It might possibly be the best I have eaten, and it had no salt, no butter, no pepper, no grill marks— just corn, raw and sweet, as God intended.
I attach an uncommon reverence to summer corn. There is, among my friends, a tight-knit, covert group, who— along with me— scout out locations and farmers who grow the best sweet corn in my area. When one is found, the word is disseminated among the group’s members, and I am warned that if I write about the farmer’s whereabouts— ruining the group’s chances for “putting up” enough sweet corn to last through the winter— I will be out of the loop and banished to Field Corn Hell for the rest of the summer.
The telephone calls usually begin in early June. “Larry said that Farmer Smith is not planting this year.” “Virginia told me that Farmer Jones switched crops.” “Barbara Jane says keep an eye out for Johnson’s roadside stand.” A strategy is developed, a plan is implemented, and the corn buying begins. Wall Street speculators purchasing corn futures have nothing on my summer sweet corn contingency.
I didn’t tell the corn contingency about Ronnie’s garden. It wasn’t that I was trying to hoard the corn for myself. I was only given half a dozen ears. I was fearful that— in their unabashed quest for corn— a few rogue members might sneak out to Ronnie’s place in the middle of the night to procure a few ears for their personal summer stash. Then, of course, they would be at risk of running into me in the middle of the night sampling raw corn by moonlight while standing in Ronnie’s garden.
The American humorist Garrison Keillor once said, “Sex is good, but not as good as fresh sweet corn.” As a young man, I viewed that statement as hogwash. With each year, as I grow older, Mr. Keillor appears to be much wiser.
Summer Creamed Corn
8 ears Silverqueen corn, shucked, silked, and scraped to remove milk
2 cups Water
1 stick Butter
2 Tbl Half and half
2 tsp Cornstarch
Salt and pepper to taste
Break two of the shucked corncobs in half. Place in a small sauce pot with two cups of water. Simmer for 10 minutes to make a corn stock.
Melt butter in a medium sized skillet over a medium heat and add corn and 1 /2 cup of the corn stock. Simmer over low heat 10 minutes. Dissolve cornstarch in the Half and Half and stir into the simmering corn mixture. Return to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot. Yield: six to eight servings