A Corn Lover's Guide to Getting the Most Out of Early Season Corn

From when to procure it and how to cook it, early season corn requires a different approach.

I have a friend who will not eat corn. She will eat foie gras and grilled sardines and truffles of course. But she will not eat corn. Don’t ask me why. Whenever she starts to tell me, I immediately stop listening. It just isn’t something I can pretend to comprehend.

Many years ago, I converted her into a tomato eater on the strength of a homegrown beefsteak from my grandfather’s garden that I carried on the plane with me back to New York. Up until then, she would not eat a fresh tomato under any circumstances. My grandfather’s tomato was a revelation to her.

Because of my success with tomatoes I felt that one day I would convince her that corn was worth her while as well. So far it’s been thirty years and she hasn’t budged. Still, I will never give up hope. In the meantime, I say, more corn for the rest of us.

For those of us who are corn enthusiasts, the countdown to corn season has all the built-in anticipation of anything else worth waiting for. If the spring has been wet and cool like it was in the Mid-Atlantic this year, doubts about whether the corn will be ready in time for the Fourth of July begin to creep in sometime in early June. When my local farmer sent out an email last week announcing that “the kernels are coming, the kernels are coming”, I felt a wave of relief until I realized he did not say exactly when they would arrive. The 4th was just a few days away.

It turns out, this was just a tease. A few days later, on June 30, he sent out another email announcing that the corn was ready and would be available for purchase at the farm stand beginning July 1. Right on time.

The Best Time to Buy Your Corn

Now, the trick—in the early days of corn season—is to get to the farm stand as soon as it opens in the morning. The early corn harvest is light and the pickings are slim. There is no time to drink your coffee in the morning and contemplate tonight’s dinner menu at leisure. The menu, like the day, will be built around corn. Time is running short.

Whatever you are doing, the work must stop so you can get in your car at the specified time so that you arrive at the farm stand precisely at the opening. (If you’ve been pulling weeds and watering your containers, a shower is not necessary—just throw on a clean pair of shorts, grab a hat and a pair of dark glasses and pretend you are Greta Garbo, arriving incognito.) An hour later, and the day’s corn may already be sold out and then what will you do for dinner?

Later in the season, when the corn is coming on fast and furious, there will be two pickings per day. My advice is to arrive during the late afternoon so that the time from picking to eating is kept to a minimum before the sugars begin to break down.

The Best Way to Prepare Your Corn

How you prepare your corn will also change as the season progresses. When eating corn has become routine, that is the time to start grilling it or making corn pudding or anything else that will make it seem less like you are eating corn every day of the week (which for me is not a problem but there may be certain family members who do not share your enthusiasm for corn in quite the way you do).

But before then, when the first corn of the season awaits you, remember that it is still early days. The ears are smaller and perhaps more tender and the cooking method it wants is just a quick boil or steam. Two to three minutes and no more. Serve it with a good slathering of unsalted butter, a sprinkling of salt and wait for the groans of satisfaction. The long season of waiting is over.

The Best Way to Enjoy Your Corn

Don't Forget the Butter

After the first bite, there will be a pronouncement and this season’s corn will be ranked. Like a fine wine, it will be compared to corn seasons past. If you are a true corn lover maybe you will want to jot down a few tasting notes. Most of us, though, just rely on memory.

The Verdict

What I will say about my first taste of corn in 2017 is this: it is promising to be a great corn season. The ears (though small) had plump, shiny kernels with uniform rows. As for the taste, well, we all agreed it was nicely sweet with a good crunch. Far better than last year which was utterly forgettable.

This could be the season that converts my friend into a corn eater. Maybe I should invite her for a visit. 

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A Corn Lover's Guide to Getting the Most Out of Early Season Corn