2010-07-08 / Local & State

Fresh Local Sweet Corn is Early This Year

The summer favorite – fresh, local, “Simply Delicious, Simply Nutritious” Pennsylvania sweet corn – is here early this year. Many growers are reporting their earliest harvest days on record. Lancaster County started in the middle of June and other areas are coming in close behind. Most areas should have plenty of fresh corn available for Fourth of July holiday picnics.

The early spring and recent warm weather made this year’s record early harvest possible. Assuming continued good weather in the coming month or so, consumers can expect an abundant supply of 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.

Growers start planting corn about the middle of March 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 without row covers 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 bicolor 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 17,800 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 processed 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 at http://foodsafety.psu.edu/le ts_preserve.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 were entered in the 2009 Pennsylvania “Simply Delicious” Vegetable Recipe Contest. Additional corn recipes are available at www.paveggies.org.

Sweet Com Succotash

Salad with Asian-Lime Dressing

Serves 6 to 8

4 ears sweet corn – yellow, steamed or roasted, cut from the cob (about 3 c. kernels)

1 1/2 c. edamame (shelled green soybeans) -– available in freezer or health-foods section

1 red pepper – medium, seeded and diced

1/4 c. green onions - sliced

1/4 c. cilantro – fresh, chopped

1 T. rice vinegar

1 T. lime juice – freshly squeezed

2 tsp. vegetable oil

1/8 tsp. ginger – ground

Prepare sweet corn as desired. Cut from the cobs and allow to cool for several minutes. Add the frozen soybeans to boiling water and cook for about 3 minutes. Drain and cool. Mix the corn and green soybeans in a medium-sized bowl. Add diced red peppers and green onions. Stir to blend. In a separate small jar with a lid, or mixing cup, mix the rice vinegar, lime juice, oil and ground ginger. Shake well or whisk to blend. Pour over vegetable salad mixture. Top with chopped cilantro. Mix well and chill about a half hour or serve at room temperature. Submitted by Susan Coates, York

Coconut Chicken Chowder

Serves 4

2 T. olive oil

1 sweet onion – medium, finely chopped

2 chicken breasts – medium sized, chopped

2 tsp. cumin 1 tsp. marjoram leaves

1 tsp. red pepper flakes

1 tsp. ginger – finely chopped

1 tsp. garlic – finely chopped

2 c. sweet corn – fresh, cut off cob

15 oz. white beans (cannelili)

15 oz. coconut milk – canned

1 c. chicken broth

1/4 c. - 1/2 c coconut flakes – fresh, unsweetened

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil at medium heat. When hot add the onion and saute. Next add the chopped chicken, cumin, majoram, red pepper flakes, ginger and garlic. Cook until throughly cooked and brown. Then add corn, beans,coconut milk and broth. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook 20 min. Add 1/4 cup of fresh coconut flakes and stir. Simmer another 5-10 min. Pour into 4 large soup bowls and garnish with the fresh coconut flakes on top. Enjoy! Submitted by Holly Shuman, Kutztown

Summer Garden Salad

Serves 8 to 10

2 c. sweet corn – blanched, cut, cooled and drained

1 c. green beans – snapped, blanched, cooled and drained

1 c. lima beans – blanched, cooled and drained

1/2 c. carrots – sliced, blanched, cooled and drained

1/2 c. bell peppers – red and green, chopped

2 green onions – sliced 1/2 c. vinegar 1/2 c. sugar 1/4 c. Italian salad dressing 1 tsp. cilantro – chopped 1 tsp. chili powder 1/4 tsp. pepper – ground

1/2 tsp. garlic – minced

In a large bowl, combine vegetables. In a medium bowl, mix vinegar, sugar, Italian dressing, cilantro, chili powder, pepper and garlic with a wire whip. Pour dressing over the vegetables and toss lightly. Cover and chill to blend flavors. Submitted by Belinda Myers, Dallastown

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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