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Buttered on cob is corn king

Created on Monday, 16 July 2018 Last Updated on Monday, 16 July 2018 Published Date

by Tyler Morrison

I love corn. So much, in fact, I would eat it with every meal if it were made of anything other than carbohydrates and guilt.

I've spoken before about the short window of growth we have in Montana, and I always really feel like summer is on the way when I start to see corn appearing in local grocery stores.

I was surprised to find out that Montana doesn't grow much corn at all. According to the annual USDA/NASS report, Montana planted about 115,000 acres of corn in 2017. That may sound like a lot, but in total, Montana farmers and ranchers worked about 60 million acres.

In American regional cooking, corn is important in many recipes, such as corn chowder, creamed corn, succotash, and cornbread.  But no preparation can come close to the timeless appeal of simple buttered corn on the cob.  All over the Midwest and Great Plains, small towns celebrate the harvest with sweet corn festivals.  Settlers adapted the Indian style of roasting corn with the husks removed, and to this day, street vendors around the world sell husked corn.

In Iowa, the heart of the Corn Belt (yup, you heard me), almost half of all cultivated land is devoted to corn, making it first in the nation for corn production.  Corn is the largest crop in the United States, in terms of acres planted and the value of the crop produced.  It is also the most widely distributed crop in the world.

In Native American usage, the word for corn means “our life,” or “our mother,” or “she who sustains us.”  It was the cultivation of corn that turned Native American tribes from nomadic to agrarian communities.

It was from the Native Americans that the first European settlers learned about corn.  Native Americans had spent hundreds of years developing what we now know as corn from the seed-bearing grass.  Long before Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain in 1492, Native Americans were cultivating this grass in North, Central, and South America.  Native American farmers in the Ohio River Valley had been growing corn for more than 1,700 years before the first white men crossed the Appalachian Mountains, and there is evidence that they used corn to brew beer before Europeans arrived in the Americas. Human ability to ferment and consume anything with intoxicating effects never ceases to amaze.

The Pawtuxet Indian tribe in Massachusetts was cultivating corn when the first settler arrived, and corn was on the first Thanksgiving table in 1621.  If it had not been for corn, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony might have starved to death during their first year in America.  The Indians taught settlers how to grow corn, pound corn into meal, and how to cook with it.  The words of Governor William Bradford, first governor of the Plymouth Colony, now inscribed on a brass plaque at Truto (Corn Hill) on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, reflect the settler’s gratitude:

“And sure it was God’s good providence that we found this corn for we know not how else we should have done.”

Choosing corn to purchase is fairly straightforward if you keep just a few things in mind. Fully ripe sweet corn has bright green, moist husks. The silk should be stiff, dark and moist. You should be able to feel individual kernels by pressing gently against the husk.

As soon as corn is picked, its sugar begins is gradual conversion to starch, which reduces the corn’s, natural sweetness.  Corn will lose 25% or more of its sugar within 25 hours after harvesting it.  Fresh corn, if possible, should be cooked and served the day it is picked or purchased. Many times, this is why corn can seem to be very hit and miss. Leaving corn in your refrigerator for a couple of days is essentially a death sentence for its natural sugars.

Between purchasing and cooking, keep the corn moist and cool.  Pack in a cooler for the trip home from farm or market and refrigerate corn immediately after taking it home.  By refrigerating the corn it helps the corn stay sweet by not letting the sugars turn to starch.

Finally, I just want to express my shock at how many people have never cooked corn in dry heat. I mean, my wife's family has a proud tradition of boiling everything like medieval medical equipment. (Can't allow any parasites, bacteria, or flavor.) But roasting corn on the grill or in the oven will drastically improve your quality of life. Not as much as fermenting and drinking it will, but you get the point.

Preparing Corn for Grilling:

If the ears of corn have many layers of husk on them, peel off only the first couple of layers, leaving a few layers for protection.  Do not remove all the layers. Naked corn does not like fire.

Soak the whole cobs in a pot of cold water for 15 minutes.  Be sure the ears are completely covered with water.  This will provide extra moisture for cooking and will steam the corn kernels inside the husks.

While the corn is soaking, preheat the barbecue grill to a medium temperature.  After soaking, remove the corn from the water and shake off any excess water.

Begin by pulling the husks of the corn back (but do not completely remove them).  Remove and discard only the silk.

Brush the kernels with olive oil or butter.  –

If desired, before you re-wrap the corn in the husks, add a little garlic, chopped onion, nutmeg, salt, and black pepper.  For an international twist, try using herbs such as basil, cilantro, or oregano.  Then position the husks back over the kernels and tie each ear with a piece of loose husk or twine.

Grilling the Corn:

Place the prepared ears of corn on a medium heat on your barbecue grill, rotating the corn as needed to keep it from getting charred too much on one side. It should have some black spots.  After a couple of turns, place the corn husk on an indirect heat (moved to the side of the grill) or on the top shelf of your grill, and close the cover.

Allow the corn to slowly continue cooking for approximately 15 minutes.

As soon as the husk picks up the dark silhouette of the kernels and begins to pull away from the tip of the ear, the corn is ready to come off the grill.  Do not overcook the corn or it will become mushy. You know when you have gone too far if the corn cob flexes easily in your hands. No one likes floppy corn.

Remove the corn from the grill.  Be careful and wear oven mitts as the corn will be very hot!

Grasping one end with an oven mitt or dish towel, peel the husks and silk from the top down banana-style and they should all come off in one piece.  Ashes will get on the corn, but this is fine.  If the corn is too hot to handle, do this part in the sink under warm running water.

Once you have removed most of the silk, rinse the corn under warm running water to remove any excess ash and silk.

Serve with butter and enjoy!



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