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This time of year, I could live on corn-on-the-cob, slathered with butter, sprinkled with salt. What could be better?
My dad grew corn in our garden when I was a kid. My job was to walk along the rows as evening fell, purging the ears of Japanese beetles by flicking them off the silk and into a jar of gasoline. There’s one piece of silk for every kernel of corn, and we weren’t willing to let the beetles steal our crop by eating all the silk before the kernels had formed. Every now and then, I’d miss the jar and flick a beetle down the front of my shirt instead. I’d dance around, squealing as I tried to get it out, feeling its scratchy legs on my skin. Little boogers legs are like Velcro.
As if that weren’t enough to discourage me from growing it in my own garden, corn also takes up a lot of real estate for a relatively small yield. I would have to dedicate much of my plot to corn and still wouldn’t get enough for my taste. So I spend my precious square-footage on beans and tomatoes and squash, and opt instead to buy the fabulous, locally grown corn that is so readily available.
My favorite farm stand, Ed’s Fruit & Produce, where New London’s Ed Kokoszka has been selling his crops for more than 15 years, has amazing corn. As the season progresses, his stand at Route 2 and Main Street in North Stonington offers a progression of varieties — from white-and-yellow to all-yellow to all-white. Just when I think I have found my favorite, I try another. Each is better than the last.
But as with tomatoes, the season is short. To prolong it a bit, whenever I buy corn, I try to buy more than I think we’re going to eat. To cook it, I bring a big pot of water to the boil. I shuck the ears, then drop them into the bubbling water and immediately turn off the heat. Five minutes later, perfect corn every time.
Later, I cut the kernels off the leftover ears, being sure to scrape the cob with the back of the knife to get every last bit. The least messy way to do this is to invert a small bowl in the bottom of larger bowl. Balance the cob on the bottom of the small bowl while you slice off the kernels, most of which will be trapped in the larger bowl instead of flying around the kitchen.
I put the kernels into a plastic bag and throw the bag into the freezer. I try to remember to measure the amount and write that on the bag, along with the date. Then later, long after Ed has shuttered his stand for the year, I can reach into the freezer and relive my corn glory days.
This recipe, from my good friend Betsy, is a great way to celebrate that summer, fresh corn flavor after the season has passed. It’s from a cookbook by the owners of the once semi-famous vegetarian restaurant, the Horn of the Moon Café in Montpelier, Vt. It’s not a traditional chowder — there’s no salt pork — but the cumin seed lends it the same kind of smoky richness, so when you eat it, you don’t feel as though there’s anything missing.
I like to serve the chowder with brown bread — it can be found by the can in the grocery store, next to the baked beans — that I slice and pop into the toaster then spread with butter. Or, if I have a bread in the freezer — banana, zucchini or cranberry — that makes a delicious accompaniment as well.
Corn and Cheese Chowder
4 large unpeeled potatoes, diced (I peel the potatoes when I’m feeling fancy. It’s nice to substitute in two sweet potatoes, which I also peel.)
4 cups water or stock (I use water.)
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon cumin seed
3 cups corn kernels
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup heavy cream (I use skim, 1 percent or 2 percent milk, whatever’s in the fridge.)
2 cups grated cheese (Betsy uses half cheddar and half Monterey Jack)
2-3 bay leaves (fewer works fine, too)
1 tablespoon fresh chives (OK to use dried or leave out)
½ cup minced fresh parsley (OK to use less, use dried or leave out entirely)
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine diced potatoes, water or stock, and bay leaves in a soup pot. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, until potatoes are tender.
Meanwhile, sauté onions and cumin seed in butter until onions are soft and beginning to brown. Sprinkle on the flour and continue to stir and cook until all the flour is absorbed and things are bubbling again.
Add the onion mixture to the soup pot then add corn. Bring back to a boil, lower heat and add the milk and the cheese, half at a time, stirring until melted. Add the chives and parsley, if using, and salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with toasted brown bread or zucchini bread. Enjoy!
Original recipe from the “Horn of the Moon Cookbook” by Ginny Callan.
Jill Blanchette works at night at The Day. Share recipes or comments with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.