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Other Names: Maize (Britain).

General Description: Corn (Zea mays) is a long husk-covered “ear” filled with even rows of toothlike kernels surrounding a central woody core. Corn is the New World’s most important contribution to the world diet. Originating in Central America, corn has been cultivated since at least 3500 b.c. and was a basic food for the Incas, Mayas, Aztecs, and native North Americans. Sweet fresh corn on the cob is a luxury outside the U.S.

Bi-Colored (or Butter and Sugar) corn with mixed yellow and white kernels in each ear is a favorite in New England. In the Mid-Atlantic, people prefer white corn such as Silver Queen. Silver Queen is a premier white corn with tight dark green husks and long ears filled to their tips with succulent white kernels. Yellow corn, like Golden, is sought after in the Midwest. Red sweet corn is uncommon but beautiful, with ruby-tipped sweet kernels that keep their color when cooked.

Baby or miniature corn is very young corn, about 6 inches long with a core tender enough to eat. Yellow high-sugar hybrids, such as Sweetie and Kandy Korn, grown extensively in Florida, slow down the conversion of sugar to starch. These corn varieties can be twice as sweet as other corn, actually get sweeter after harvest, and stay sweet up to 14 days. However, the skin tends to be tough and much of the delicate complex corn flavor is lost.

Season: Florida corn is available October to June with peak season April to June. California corn is in season May to October with peak season June and July. New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey corn is sold from July to September with peak season August and September. Ohio corn is at peak season from August to October.

Purchase: To choose corn in the husk, pull back enough of the husk to expose the kernels. You should see full rows of pearly rounded teeth. Evenly spaced rows should be plump and milky all the way to the tip of the ear; the husk should be bright green and snugly fitting. The pale to deep gold silks should be dry, not soggy. Don’t be scared off if you see a corn worm at the top of the ear, more common in organic corn especially toward the end of the season. Just cut off the tip and enjoy. It has probably chosen the sweetest ear for you.

Because the sugars in corn convert so quickly to starch, buy corn as soon as possible after it’s been picked. Look for a market that buys local corn in season with high volume and quick turnover. When buying tray-pack corn, look for plump rounded kernels and no shriveling.

Avoid: Prehusked tray-pack corn may be old or tough, and it’s difficult to gauge quality inside the package. Avoid corn with flattened, tightly packed kernels; the corn will be starchy because it’s overmature.

Storage: Refrigerate the ears in plastic for 1 to 2 days.


Pull back and tear off the husks.

Rub off the silk using a nylon scrubber, toothbrush, or vegetable brush.

To remove the kernels, cut off the tip and bottom of the ear. Stand the cob upright, then use a firm-bladed, sharp knife to slice downward. Cut off 3 to 4 rows at a time without cutting too deep, or the kernels will be woody. Scrape the cobs downward to extract the corn “milk.”

Corn on the cob is best cooked briefly by either boiling, steaming, or grilling. When boiling, don’t salt the cooking water, which will toughen the skin. Cook corn until just tender; overcooking will toughen it. The sweeter and younger it is, the faster the corn will cook.

Serving Suggestions: Make spoon bread with fresh corn purée added. Make corn chowder with potatoes and salt pork or bacon. Add fish, clams, scallops, crab, or lobster. Serve corn on the cob with spice- or herb-flavored butter or olive oil. Cut kernels from cooked corn and add to salad, omelets, pasta, risotto, salsa, or soup.

Flavor Affinities: Basil, beefsteak tomatoes, butter, clams, crab, eggs, fish, lobster, red onion, shrimp, tarragon.

from Quirk Books: