This month, we are celebrating sweetcorn. Massive production and many sub-products mean that sweetcorn ends up in all sorts of surprising places in processed food. But the real thing – a fresh, plump cob covered in juicy, sweet little kernels – is truly a treat.
Vegetable Origins & Varieties : Sweetcorn; Zea mays L. Family Gramineae.
Sweetcorn is a variety of maize containing more sugar and starch than other maize grains. Like wheat and rice the maize family of grains (and there are six major types) it is an important staple food around the world and like them is a grass.
Central American Mayan and Incan farmers first domesticated maize from wild stock as far back as 9,000 years ago. Later, life for the Aztecs revolved round their milpa or cornfields. Today there are no wild varieties left.
It was first introduced to Europe, from Central America, in the sixteenth century and has always been popular for the ‘cobs’ and the yellow meal.
We are all familiar with the large yellow-golden cobs but there is a huge range of multi-coloured (and different sized) cobs as well, ranging from scarlet, brown to almost black. The Cherokee tribes of southern North America still grow beautiful blue seeded maize.
Growing tips & Harvesting
Sweetcorn (maize) is a grass so is not pollinated by insects but by the male pollen floating on the air to the female flower, that’s why we plant them close together in blocks.
Usually in the Skip garden we grow the smaller dwarf varieties in the skip beds such as Strawberry or Popcorn but this year we’re growing a taller variety in the Broadgate Beds (the mirrored bed just outside the café) that produce beautiful blue cobs.
We sow undercover into 9cm pots in April aiming to plant out in May although we always follow the weather. They take about 80 days from sowing to harvest so you can re-sow another crop as late as July. Being a grass they need nitrogen (organic chicken pellets) and lots of water to prosper.
Storing & Preparation
Sweetcorn is best kept in its leaves, in a cool dark place. It will spoil quickly without its leafy protective layer, or if it gets damp.
Our favourite Recipes:
BBQ Cobs with salt, chilli and lime
Take the whole cob, and place over hot coals with the leafy packaging still on. Cook, turning often, until the leafy package has blackened. All ow to cool until handle-able, then tear off the leafy package. Cut a few limes in half and get a little bowl of flaky sea salt (e.g. Maldon) and chilli flakes. Cook the naked sweetcorn cobs back over the coals. Turn them often, allowing the kernels to brown and even blacken a bit, but not burn heavily. Every now and then, dip a lime half in the salt-chilli mix and rub it over the cooking cob. Serve after about 5 mins of cooking, or when there is a nice light burn on all sides – with a final lime-chilli-salt rub.
Pull the leafy packaging off the sweetcorn cobs. Cut the kernels away from the cob. Take about half of the kernels and blanche them in lightly salted boiling water for about 2 minutes. Blitz the other half in a food processor till they turn to liquid. Place this liquid and the blanched kernels into a thick bottomed saucepan and warm gently, over low heat and stirring continuously, until the liquid thickens. Taste and add a little salt and pepper if desired. Serve this delicious, sweet-yet-savoury, creamy-with-crunches corny goodness as a sauce or on its own.
Sweetcorn is a rare thing – delectable, inexpensive and nutritious. Most kids adore it, especially tearing into a whole cob with hands and teeth. The season in Europe is quite short – but happily, it co-incides with BBQ season – so get your corn out and over the coals. Simple, delicious and a real summer treat!