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Savoring Sweet Corn

Following a feature on growing corn that aired on the Eight O'Clock Hour Thursday, August 30, 2007, hosts Martha and Todd got talking about the joys of fresh corn on the cob. Beyond the traditional butter and salt, Martha had heard of using lime juice on steamed or roast corn. They called out for listeners to send in their favorite ways of preparing this harvest season treat. Add your own touch by email to

Variations on the lime juice theme:

Some years ago when I worked at Cornell University's main campus in Ithaca, I had a Guatemalan friend who told me the way they ate corn on the cob was to husk it, grill briefly on all sides till golden, then squeeze lime juice and sprinkle on salt. They would've been using field, not sweet corn, but sweet corn tastes great this way, and if you do have older corn, that's past peak (my dad would've said it's no good unless you rush it from field to cooking pot), this is a great way to redeem it. I've introduced this technique to a lot of friends, and most like it a lot. Thanks for the chance to share it again.
Cheryl Craft, Lake Placid, NY

When we go to NYC, we always try to get to a restaurant in NoLiTa called Cafe Habana--for the roasted corn rolled in cotija cheese, lime juice and chile! We have tried to duplicate at home without much success, but it really "calls to us" when in NYC!!
Jim La Plante, Cape Vincent

Other approaches:

What miss most about the good old days in the North Country is Golden Bantam corn. Back when many many of the farms along Routes 11 and 11B, which we plied on our ways between Gouverneur and Hopkinton (gateway to Lake Ozonia and our summer home) grew "sweet corn" as well as feed corn, and sold it by the 13 ears along the road. the best kind, it seems to me, was Golden Bantam, and that came to be the dominant kind the farmers grew. It tasted like -- how shall I say -- corn, you know? The very essence of corn. For me, it's been sad to lose it in favor of these later sugar-and-butter and otherwise too sweet, less corny corns. I'd love to taste Golden Bantam again and see if this is just nostalgia. Yrs,
Mason Smith, Blue Mountain Lake

Corn with extra virgin olive oil and freshly ground black pepper.
Tom Akstens

I love to make a garlic bread spread – butter, garlic, salt, parsley, maybe a little onion powder – and put it in the fridge to let the flavors blend. Tastes great on sweet corn!
J.C. Patrick, Sugar Land, TX

A tradition of my family while growing up in southern Ohio was to make corn pancakes. This was done simply by taking usual pancacke batter (for my mom it was bisquick, for me now it is homemade whole wheat) and adding fresh raw corn (cooked or frozen won't do) . I take the corn off the cob with a knife and add it to the already made batter. I like alot of corn in mine - so I add it until it looks right to me. I haven't met anyone else who does this and my husband and two daughters won't touch them. I splurge every summer by making a big batch and eating it all by myself - covered in maple syrup! The corn and syrup are a perfect match.
Robin Rhodes-Crowell

Summer’s Simple Sweetness

The long, hot days of summer give way to the cool nights of fall, and the time for corn harvest is here. While New York and Ohio are among the largest producers of summer sweet corn, here in the North Country our short growing season and usually cool summers make growing a good crop of corn a bit tricky. Still, because corn’s sweetness and crunch make it one of our favorite summer dishes, many try, and fresh corn is available on farm stands all around the region. But do not buy too much at once! It is best eaten as soon as you bring it home, because the natural sugar in the kernels begins converting to starch as soon as it is harvested. In fact, I remember one summer, walking through a cornfield, peeling back the husks and eating just-picked corn raw off the cob - and wondering why we ever bother to cook it.

Corn is native to the western hemisphere, and has been a staple of Indian diets in both North and South America. It has been cultivated since 3000 BC, or perhaps earlier. For many native peoples, corn had religious significance, and its origins were attributed to the gods. A Mayan creation story even claims that life springs from corn. In addition to religious ceremonies, some Indian tribes used corn as a form of currency, for fuel, for making jewelry and even for constructing buildings. European settlers learned about corn from the Indians when, in 1620, the Pilgrims befriended Squanto, a native from the Wampanoag tribe in the Plymouth area. The Wampanoags lived by farming and fishing. Squanto, who had been captured by British seamen and had learned English, taught the Pilgrims about many native plants, including how to grow corn. Closer to our region, the Iroquois diet was based on corn, beans, and squash, the three spirits that sustain life. Corn soup and corn bread were staples of the Iroquois diet.

While many think of corn as a vegetable, it is actually a grain, like wheat or rye. One medium ear contains about 75 calories, 3 grams of plant protein, 1 gram of fat, 1 gram of fiber and 15 grams of carbohydrate. Low in sodium, corn is a good source of protein and fiber, as well as potassium, magnesium, folic acid, thiamine, vitamin A and even vitamin C. The Indians combined it with beans in order to create a complete protein.

At the local farm stand, select corn with bright green, snug husks that are full at the tip and creamy or light yellow silks that are moist and pliable. Avoid ears that have yellowed husks or dark, dried silks; this indicates that the corn has been sitting out in the sun all day. Remember that the freshest corn has the sweetest flavor. At 86 degrees, half the sugar is converted to starch in just 24 hours.

Fresh, sweet corn is one of the simplest and most wholesome culinary delights of summer. It captures the rays golden sunshine, turning them into sugar. Corn on the cob can be boiled, steamed, grilled, roasted, or microwaved.

One of my favorite ways to prepare corn is over a campfire. Remove excess silk from the tip, and soak the husks in water for at least a half hour. Roast over the coals so the kernels steam a little. The husks will char in the fire, but the corn inside will be moist, tender and sweet. Remove the hot, cooked corn with thongs, peel back the husk, remove the silk, eat the pure sweetness and throw the cob and husk back into the blazing fire.

You can also roast or grill corn at home. Peel back the husk, remove the silk, moisten the corn with water and replace the husk, then wrap tightly in foil. Cook until the corn begins to steam, or to desired doneness - ten to twenty minutes, turning frequently. Alternately, you can husk the corn first, remove the silk, spread with butter and wrap tightly in foil, then place on the grill over medium heat. Turn frequently. After about twenty minutes, remove from grill, peel foil back carefully and test for doneness.

If you have only a couple ears, you may choose to cook them in the microwave. You can cook them with husks on, soaking them, or place them in a tightly covered dish and cook. Cooking time will vary depending on the strength of the microwave and the number of ears.

The traditional way to make fresh corn comes from the Shakers. Shuck the corn by peeling the husk from the top down, then removing it. Snap off the stem and remove the silk. If the silk sticks to the corn, it can be removed with a wet paper towel or a vegetable brush.

Then place the husked, de-sliked corn in a pot of cold water, with a pinch of sugar. Bring to a rapid boil, then cook for just one minute. Drain and serve.

Alternately, you can bring the water to a boil first, then add the corn, return to a boil and cook for just a couple minutes, then turn off the heat and let the corn sit in the hot water a couple minutes more. Either way, be careful not to overcook, or it will lose its sweetness and the kernels will become tough. Adding salt to the cooking water also causes the kernels to harden.
Shucking, cooking, buttering and eating fresh corn is one of the best ways to savor the golden sunshine of summer. After all, according to Garrison Keillor, "People have tried and tried, but sex is not better than sweet corn."

Yvona Fast, Lake Clear
Yvona has two passions: cooking and writing. Her web site is

North Country Food Book

This corn recipe was a favorite of the whole family when we were growing up in Lake Placid. My mother frequently made these for an easy Sunday supper, since we always had the ‘big meal’ after church on Sundays. Make sure you top them with REAL maple syrup – the fake stuff just doesn’t cut it!! I still make them today and love them just as much as when I was five.

Sue Ortloff Cameron, Lake Placid

Babe Ortloff's Corn Fritters

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder (make sure it’s fresh or they may not rise properly)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. melted fat or salad oil
  • 1 cup cooked corn (either cut fresh from the cob, or, if absolutely necessary, canned or frozen)
  • ½ cup milk

  1. Sift together the flour, salt & baking powder. Beat the egg; add milk & fat or salad oil.
  2. Add to flour mixture and beat till smooth. Add corn & mix.
  3. Put enough cooking oil in a skillet to about ½ inch depth. Heat to 375 degrees.
  4. Drop mixture by spoonfuls into hot oil and fry for about 4 minutes, turning until brown on all sides and cooked through.
  5. Drain on absorbent paper.
  6. Serve with real maple syrup & butter.

Sweetcorn Festival

I was involved with pageantry for several years and the discussion of corn reminded me of one of my favorite festivals and pageants!

Every year on Labor Day weekend the lovely rural town of Hoopeston, IL (pronounced Hup-ston) hosts the National Sweetcorn Festival and National Sweetheart Pageant.

The pageant is for young women who have placed 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th Runner-Up in their respective Miss America State pageant. The winner of that pageant is crowned National Sweetheart. A former Sweetheart winner (Kandice Pelletier) went on to become Miss NY State in 2005. Here is a link to more info about the pageant:

At the National Sweetcorn festival, the corn is cooked on a old-time steam engine and they give it away for free! It is the best corn I've ever tasted and is served with butter and salt. You can have as much corn as you'd like, well almost--the limit is 6 ears per person per trip through the line. That's a lot of corn!

I am not making the trip to Hoopeston this year, but I have the past two years and it is a great little aspect of Americana.


Lindsey B. Jakiel
Admissions Advisor
SUNY Plattsburgh