2009-07-09 / Local & State

Fresh Local Sweet Corn Arriving On Schedule

Growers across the state are reporting that this year's sweet corn crop is arriving about on schedule. Paul Lebo of Oak Grove Farms in Mechanicsburg, Cumberland County, plans to start picking sweet corn about June 20 each year - this year it was June 22. Funk's Farm Market in Millersville, Lancaster County, also began harvesting its corn, which they had planted under clear plastic, on June 22. Bob Trax of Trax Farms in Finleyville, Washington Co., expected to have corn for July 4, their usual starting date.

While the weather was a little cooler than usual earlier in the spring and wet weather in many areas made planting schedules a challenge, the crop in general looks good so far. Assuming continued good weather in the coming month or so, consumers can expect an abundant supply of "Simply Delicious, Simply Nutritious" Pennsylvania sweet corn at community farmers' markets, roadside farm markets and supermarkets across the state throughout the summer. Fresh, local sweet corn is not only the best tasting corn to be had, it is also often available at economical prices at the height of the season in August. Thus in these days of increasing food and fuel costs, it represents a real food dollar bargain with a small carbon footprint besides the great taste.

Paul Lebo starts planting his corn around March 13 and plants about 12 acres a week until early July for a total of 160 acres of the summertime treat. This gives them a continuous harvest from late June until the beginning of October. They supply their own retail farm market as well local supermarkets such as Giant Foods, Weis Markets, Wegmans, Karns and Shurfine with about 2,500 dozen ears a day. Their customers prefer the white and bicolor varieties over the yellow varieties.

The corn being harvested in June and early July has been seeded under a clear plastic mulch. The warm moist environment under the clear plastic mulch is ideal for rapid seed germination and seedling development in cool March and April days. Some growers go an extra step and start their corn in the greenhouse and transplant it to the field under clear plastic row covers supported by wire hoops. Either system represents a greater investment for the grower in terms of time, equipment and supplies but enables the grower to hit the early market. Corn planted on bare ground with no row cover generally matures two to three weeks later.

Irrigation is essential to a good corn crop in many years. The critical period for adequate moisture for corn is during silking and ear development. Traditionally corn has been irrigated by overhead sprinklers or large irrigation guns that cover a large area at once. Many sweet corn growers are now turning to trickle irrigation which is the most water-efficient method of irrigation available. With this method of irrigation, a plastic tube with tiny emitters is laid down between every other row of corn. Water and fertilizer are pumped into the tubes and trickles out to the roots of the sweet corn crop.

The key to great-tasting sweet corn is freshness. The sugar in sweet corn rapidly begins turning to starch within hours after being harvested. About 40 percent of the sugar can be lost in six hours at room temperature. Refrigeration slows this process, but the sooner corn is eaten after harvesting, the better it will be.

Most growers are growing sugar-enhanced or super-sweet varieties that genetically have more sugar in the kernels. Some of these early sugar-enhanced varieties where developed at Penn State University. Because they have more sugar to begin with, they can be stored for longer periods and still have acceptable sweetness. However, standard sweet corn varieties, when purchased freshly harvested, will still have a delicious, traditional corn flavor and sweetness.

According to growers across the state, most Pennsylvanians prefer bi-color corn, traditionally known as Butter and Sugar. However, in south central and southeastern Pennsylvania, white is the preferred corn. Certain localities and clienteles still like their corn to be yellow, so many growers also grow some yellow varieties.

Sweet corn is the leading vegetable crop in the commonwealth with about 17,200 acres grown annually. About 86 percent of this sweet corn acreage is grown for fresh market sales. As a result, Pennsylvania ranks as the seventh largest fresh-market sweet corn producing state in the nation. About 2,400 acres of the sweet corn acreage are grown to be pro-cessed into frozen, dried or canned corn products available year around. Fresh corn will be available from late June into October.

While fresh sweet corn is a delicious ingredient in many recipes, it is most popular served right on the cob, and is so simple to prepare with these tips from Penn State Cooperative Extension. Simply boil husked ears for four to seven minutes in unsalted water - salt may toughen the kernels. If you prefer grilled corn, remove the silk from the ear but leave the husk on. Soak the ears for 10 minutes in cold water and then grill them for 15-20 minutes. To roast, remove the silk and husk from the ears, brush with melted margarine or butter and wrap in foil. Roast the wrapped ears for 15 to 20 minutes on the grill.

Fresh corn-on-the-cob is also easily prepared in the microwave by wrapping two husked ears in a damp paper towel and cooking them for seven minutes on high power, turning the ears once.

Many roadside farm markets offer larger quantities of corn for home freezing. Penn State University offers detailed instructions on the Web at http://foodsafety.psu.edu/lets_pre serve.html, This information is also available at any Penn State Cooperative Extension office or by contacting the Pennsylvania Vegetable Marketing and Research Program at 717-694-3596. Many general cookbooks offer detailed instructions and recipes as well.

The following corn recipes offer other creative methods to enjoy Pennsylvania "Simply Delicious, Simply Nutritious" sweet corn. These recipes have been entered in the 2009 Pennsylvania "Simply Delicious" Vegetable Recipe Contest. Grilled Sweet Corn Salad with Honey Lime Vinaigrette Serves 14-16 5 ears sweet corn 2 T. olive oil 2 Bell peppers - 1 red and 1 yellow, chopped 2 jalapeno peppers - finely chopped 1/2 red onion - small, finely chopped 1 bunch green onions - sliced 1/2 c. cilantro - fresh, chopped 15 oz. black beans - canned, drained and rinsed 15 oz. black-eyed peas - canned, drained and rinsed 3/4 c. olive oil 1/4 c. white vinegar 1 T. honey 1 lime - juiced and zested

First remove all husks and silk from sweet corn. Preheat grill to medium high heat. Brush sweet corn with olive oil and grill until tender. After corn has cooled, use a knife to remove all kernels from cob. In a large bowl, combine corn with the vegetables and cilantro. Add black eye peas and black beans to vegetables and toss gently. In a separate bowl whisk together vinegar, olive oil, honey, lime juice and 1/2 teaspoon of lime zest. Pour vinaigrette over vegetables and toss to coat evenly. May be served alone or with tortilla chips.

Submitted by Bethany Hoffman, Richfield Corn Pudding 6 ears sweet corn - cooked and cut off the cob 1 can cream of mushroom soup - condensed 2 eggs 3/4 c. milk 1 T. cornstarch 1/2 c. sugar 1 tsp. salt 1/2 tsp. pepper 1 T. butter - melted

Mix above ingredients and place in a two-quart greased casserole. Bake for 35 minutes at 350ºF. Submitted by Mary Landis of New Cumberland Vegetarian Corn Chowder For the stock: 6 ears sweet corn - fresh, kernels removed and reserved for chowder 1 potato - chopped 1 stalk celery - chopped 3 cloves garlic - peeled Pinch salt 6 c. water For the chowder: 1 c. onion - chopped 2 T butter 3 c. potatoes - diced 2 stalks celery - diced 1/4 c. parsley - fresh, chopped 1/2 tsp thyme 1 T basil - fresh, chopped 1 bay leaf 4 c. corn stock (recipe follows) 1 pepper - red, diced 1 pepper - green, diced corn kernels - reserved from making stock 1 1/2 c. milk - whole salt - to taste black pepper - fresh, ground, to taste

Stock: Place the corn cobs, potato, celery, garlic cloves, pinch of salt and water in a large soup pot. Bring the pot to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer gently for an hour. Strain stock through a colander.

Chowder: In a soup pot over medium heat, saute the onions in the butter for 10 minutes until translucent, stirring often. Add the potatoes, celery, thyme, parsley, bay leaf, basil and 4 cups of stock. Cover and simmer gently about 5 minutes, until the potatoes begin to soften. Add the peppers and corn and cook 5 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaf.

Ladle 2 cups of the soup into a blender and add the milk. Whirl until smooth and return the pureed mixture to the soup pot. Stir, season to taste, and gently reheat.

Submitted by Julie Falsetti

Quick buying tips for Pennsylvania Sweet Corn

The Pennsylvania Vegetable Marketing and Research Program offers these tips when buying sweet corn:

Look for fresh green husks and ears that are filled all the way to the tip.

Kernels should be tender, full and firm enough to puncture easily under the slightest pressure.

To preserve the corn's sugar content and flavor, refrigerate immediately after purchase.

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