Guide to Corn

The first ear of corn heralds the arrival of summer. Enjoy its glorious sweetness and crisp, juicy texture for as long as the season lasts.

"Raise less corn and more hell," Populist Mary Elizabeth Lease is credited with exhorting Kansas farmers, thus vocalizing what would be the rallying cry for dozens of grass-roots politicians in the 19th and 20th centuries. But maybe these days the grain itself is taking the dare. If you're accustomed to thinking of this ancient American staple as about as exciting as your grandfather's beige sedan, you're in for a shuck.

Because corn brings more to the table than we of recent generations may have been lulled into believing. The main food of the Maya isn't just the stuff covered with gooey cream in cans, or frozen in little supermarket packages. It's best fresh on -- or off―the cob. May to September is prime time for the two most popular varieties: white corn, which has smaller, sweeter kernels, and yellow corn, with its larger, fuller-flavored kernels. We're not exaggerating the "fresh" part―as soon as it's picked, the sugar in corn gradually begins to convert to starch, so it becomes less sweet. Choose ears with bright green, snugly fitting husks, golden brown silk, plump kernels that come up to the ears' end in tightly spaced rows.

After you've picked through the pile for the cream of the corn crop, what do you do with them? Sure, you can strip them down and toss them in a boiling pot. But why not try something a little more creative? Corn's the food of the gods―it can take it. Grill it up Cajun, North African, or Jerk, or try it off the cob in a salad, or sherbet―that's right, the sweet stuff. Corn may be a staple, but it's far from boring. These recipes reveal its wilder side. –Rod Davis