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Corn: As Kansas In August

Updated on June 29, 2010

In 1850, a European visiting America, one Frederick Bremer, was appalled at the way Americans ate corn on the cob. "Some people take the whole stem and gnaw [the kernels] out with their teeth," he wrote. "It really troubles me to see how their wide mouths ... ravenously grind up the beautiful white, pearly maize ears." Obviously, Frederick didn't know what he was missing!

Late summer is the time - the only time, for most of us in North America - to find freshly picked sweet corn. And with fresh corn, time is of the essence. As soon as corn is picked, it starts converting its sugar to starch. My mother's great aunt, who grew corn in her Minnesota garden, would wait until the water was boiling before she picked her corn. If you're buying corn rather than growing it, buy it just before you use it and keep it cold - refrigerated or on ice - until you cook it.

The corn you see most of the year is a hybrid, supersweet variety - bred to have a lot of sugar which doesn't readily convert to starch. This variety often sacrifices corn flavor for sweetness. If you're shopping at a green market, look for varieties that aren't supersweet (ask the farmers for help) to get the true taste of summer corn.

Fresh corn is a great addition to a lot of dishes, from salads to puddings, but late summer is the time to just eat it.

To steam or boil: Bring water to a boil in a large pot (half an inch for steaming; a full pot for boiling), add the husked corn, cover the pot, and let it cook just until it's heated through (2 or 3 minutes for steaming, only about a minute for boiling.)

To bake or grill: Roll back the husks without removing them, remove the silk, wet the ears with cold water to prevent charring, and reclose the husks over the ears. (You can tie them with string, but it isn't necessary.) Bake them in a 400-degree oven for about 20 minutes, or grill them, turning a few times, for about 15. (You can also toss unhusked corn on the grill or in the oven, but I think removing silk from hot corn detracts significantly from the corn-eating experience.)

To remove kernels from the cob (if you insist on not just eating it): Place the ear; raw or cooked, vertically, with the big end on a plate or shallow dish and holding the small end, slice down the sides of the cob.

Sauté of Potatoes, Tomatoes & Fresh Corn

Accented with fresh tarragon and a lemony dressing, this simple side dish is perfect with steak.

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds small red potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 pints cherry tomatoes
8 medium ears corn, husks and silk removed and kernels cut from cobs (about 4 cups kernels)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon leaves
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1. In a nonstick 12-inch pan or skillet, heat one tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. When oil is hot add potato chunks and cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are browned on the outside and tender on the inside, about 35 minutes. Transfer potatoes to a large bowl.

2. In same skillet, heat 1 more tablespoon oil, add whole cherry tomatoes and cook 2 minutes, stirring. Add corn kernels and tarragon, and cook 2 minutes longer. Transfer tomato mixture to bowl with potatoes.

3. In cup, mix lemon juice, salt, pepper, and remaining two  tablespoons olive oil, pour over potato mixture and toss to combine.

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