What's Fresh, Toronto? Corn!
Make sure you're all ears, cause it's corn season in Ontario and people tend to get a little nuts.
How many times have you been in a grocery store or at a farmers' market during corn season and been hit with husk shrapnel or pushed out of the way for that last tasty little pleasure rod? What is it about corn season that makes people crazy? Maybe it's all the HFCS.
Nonetheless, corn season is very exciting. It means fun times, BBQs, corn roasts, and way too much butter. The early (and 'extra early') varieties of Ontario corn begin in early August, but some of these early varieties appear to be mature at the expense of flavour. On the back end, corn can run until first frost. However (in organic production especially) as the season wares on there is more and more trouble with corn worms - sometimes making a late harvest unfeasible.
Corn is one of those staples that is all at once loved for the images it conjures of simple food that has been nourishing us for millennia, and hated for the fact that it is taking over the world. Author Michael Pollen did say, we humans are 'processed corn, walking.'
Corn has, unbeknownst to many consumers, worked its way into so many facets of our everyday lives that it is damn near impossible to avoid it. From the sodas we drink, to the disposable diapers we put on our babies, to the feed we give our livestock, to the carpets we put in our homes - corn is there, the genetically modified subsidized working horse of the Big Food industry and beyond.
Yes, corn's dirty laundry is being aired more publicly than it has ever been before, with books like The Omnivore's Dilemma, movies like Food Inc. and The Informant! and entire websites devoted to corn avoidance. Somehow, the consumption of corn has moved so far beyond cobs, salsas and shepherd's pie that it is driving the industrial food system.
But without going on too much of a political rant, there are simple pleasures to be found in corn season - namely ditching the corn-derived food additives and plain old munchin' on an ear or two.
We all know how best to enjoy corn - in peak season and straight off the cob. Some like just salt, while I love to slather it in butter too. When I am feeling really fancy I whip up a chili and garlic butter for the corn, and serve it with lime juice and Cotija cheese.
The Aztecs had it right too, ancient writings document that corn was often eaten with peppers, tomatoes and salt - the original salsa!
Then there's chili, black bean and corn salad, shepherd's pie, corn fritters, corn chowder, or the countless fresh corn relishes that can be served with chicken or fish.
And fresh corn freezes well too. All you need to do is blanch your cobs in boiling water (5-10 minutes), plunge them into an ice bath to cool them off, then remove the kernels and pack into freezer bags (vacuum packing is ideal if you have a machine).
If you're concerned about eating genetically modified corn, going for organic is your best, although not 100% guaranteed option. While most GM corn is field corn (as opposed to sweet corn that is for human consumption), there are a few sweet corn varieties that are genetically modified. Since corn is a wind-pollinated crop, if organic sweet corn is being grown in the vicinity of any GM corn (field or sweet), it is possible that there could be cross-pollination.
Whatever your political stance on corn, it is at its essence a simple food that can be simply and honestly enjoyed right from our own farmlands this summer.
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