Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

Food and drink: Getting an earful

Fresh corn is the soul of summer



What's your favourite summer food? A big juicy slice of watermelon? Or how about a sweet and tender cob of corn cooked the day it was picked?

Corn gets a bad rap these days both health-wise (all those diabetes- and obesity-inducing corn-based sweeteners in everything from chicken to bread) and environment-wise. (It takes 5-12 years for soil to naturally return to its former nutrient levels once corn is grown on it, plus industrially grown corn sucks up huge amounts of petro-based fertilizers and water - more than 500 litres for every litre of corn harvested and stripped from the cobs.)

Still, you can't go wrong in the heat of summer with a cob or seven grown locally, so indulge.

Corn: our mother, our life, is how Margaret Visser describes it in her 1986 classic, Much Depends On Dinner . More is know about corn, its demands and its enemies, how it propagates itself and how it grows, than about any other plant on earth, she writes.

Corn is known to have originated in Central America, most likely in what is now Mexico. Aboriginal peoples from Cuba to New Mexico to Peru; the Inca, the Taino, the Aztecs venerated it, depended on it (our mother, our life). A kernel of corn symbolized what Christians symbolize with the holy cross - in the seed of life is death, writes Betty Fussel in her 1992 award-winning book, The Story of Corn .

While corn stems from a type of grass, the mystery still remains as to how people actually developed it - nothing like it exists in nature, in more ways than one.

Besides the curiosity of its mysterious transition from grass to plant with edible cobs, corn is also a rarity in its conversion of sugars to starch once it's picked - most plants work the other way, converting starches to sugars, ergo peaches and apricots sitting to ripen on your counter.

So what might seem like neurotic behaviour on the part of corn aficionados - driving hundreds of miles each way on prairie roads to fetch fresh corn from southern Alberta and bring it home to cook the same day; putting the pot of water on the stove to boil before you leave to buy the corn at your local farm gate in Lillooet or Pemberton or the Fraser Valley so it will be ready for those fresh and juicy cobs the instant you get in the door - is simply smart planning.

As for the cooking of freshly picked, tender summer corn, many ascribe to the two-minute rule, boiling it no more than that. But my husband and I prefer it at three minutes, which might extend closer to four by the time we actually get it out of the pot and onto our plates to be bathed in sweet butter and salt.