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MARGARET PROUSE: Sweet Island corn

Fresh Island corn on the cob is appearing in P.E.I. food markets this month.
Fresh Island corn on the cob is appearing in P.E.I. food markets this month. - Contributed

August brings bumper crop of this starchy vegetable but consumers need to take steps to ensure freshness

The taste of frozen corn, although we eat it during the winter, bears little resemblance to that of fresh Island corn.

The same is true of the texture. With that in mind, we used to plant a row of corn in the garden, a practice that ended the year when raccoons stripped every ear from the plants the night before we were going to start picking it. Luckily, we can still get good corn in season.

For me, buying fresh corn is like buying fresh fish. I always go to the same seller, the one I can rely on to provide the best quality. For corn, that means it has to be picked at the right time (ripe enough so that the kernels are developed but not so ripe that they are stodgy and starchy) and it has to be fresh. How can you tell? The ears look as if they’ve just come from the field with bright green husks and soft brown silk, none of it dry or wilted.

In all likelihood, the vendor with the best corn also chooses the variety with care. While corn still needs to be fresh to stay moist and juicy, the newer sugar-enhanced and supersweet varieties maintain their sweetness for longer than older varieties did. It’s measured in days, rather than hours, as it was in earlier times when home cooks would begin heating cooking water on the stovetop before going to the garden to pick corn.

This ancient New World crop comes in an incredible variety of colours and, according to Betty Fussell, author of “Crazy for Corn”, (HarperCollins, New York, 1995) “colour by itself is no indication of flavour or of kind.” So much for the prevalent belief that bicolour corn is the sweetest; it’s not necessarily so.

The corn I’ve been speaking of is sweet corn, the only type aside from popcorn, that many of us know. The hundreds of varieties of corn grown, worldwide, fit into five general types: pop, sweet, dent (used in the U.S. South for hominy and grits), flint (whose ability to withstand hard winters and short summers make it a favourite in cooler climates for use in batters like johnnycake) and flour (which contains waxy starch that makes it easy to grind).

Here’s something I just learned about corn: The fungus usually called smut that sometimes grows on ears of corn, is edible, like mushrooms. It’s known as huitlacoche in Mexico and is gaining popularity as the delicacy, corn mushrooms, in some fine dining restaurants.

Use fresh sweet corn in this tasty frittata.

Corn Frittata
adapted from Porter, Marie: “Sweet Corn Spectacular”. Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, MN, 2013.

8 large eggs
50 mL (¼ cup) milk
1-2 Cloves garlic, pressed or minced
2-3 Ears fresh sweet corn, husks removed
1 Small onion, finely chopped
500 mL (2 cups) add-ins (A list of suggestions follow recipe)
25 mL (2 tbsp ) olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
125-250 mL (½-1 cup) shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 230°C (450°F).

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, and garlic. Set aside.

Using a sharp knife, carefully cut kernels off the ears of corn. Add kernels to a large, ovenproof skillet along with onion, raw add-ins, and 15 mL (1 tbsp) of the olive oil. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until onions – and add-ins, as applicable– are tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool slightly.

Pour cooled mixture into the egg mixture along with the cheese and any additional add-ins, stirring to coat. Wipe out skillet and add remaining 15 mL (1 tbsp) olive oil.

Pour egg and vegetable mixture into the skillet and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes without stirring. Reduce heat to low, cover pan, and continue to cook for another 2 minutes. Remove lid and transfer skillet to top shelf of oven. Bake until entire frittata is set and the top is golden brown, about 10 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve warm.

Add-ins: Mix and match any of the following, in whatever proportions you like: chopped, cooked red or green pepper; chopped zucchini, mushrooms, broccoli, cilantro, parsley or green onions; fresh basil; chopped cooked potatoes; chopped cooked chicken; breakfast sausage chunks and bacon.

4-6 servings

Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at islandgusto@gmail.com.

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