There are several different varieties of corn grown in the Bluegrass, and although planting season for 2010 is already well past its date, fresh corn has been showing up in Farmer’s Markets for several weeks now. I have long since quit growing sweet corn in my garden because the raccoons monitor the corn’s progress and will hold nighttime raids on the night before I plan to pick the ears.
When you think corn is read to pick, feel an ear to see if it is plump and full when you squeeze it, pull back the shuck near the tip and pierce a kernel with your fingernail; it’s ready to harvest if the juice is milky. Sweet corn varieties are harvested when the kernels are in the “milk stage”, because this is when they are at their juiciest and sweetest. I have been known to eat sweet corn right from the stalk without even cooking it. Sweet corn varieties are grown in most of the family gardens in Kentucky. Eating corn on the cob is popular in Kentucky and the rest of the United States, but not a common practice in other parts of the world.
Another common farm crop you will seeing growing all over the Bluegrass is maize or field corn and is an annual cereal grass. Field or feed corn are utilized as animal feed, and is either cut before the plant matures to make silage or left standing to turn brown and harden before cutting. The United States is the world’s top producer of corn.
Corn can be made into corn syrup – an ingredient in way too many foods in our country – or cornmeal – a staple food in many parts of the world and the main ingredient in tortillas and other common Mexican foods. Corn is also turned into corn flakes (cereal), hominy, and grits (a favorite Southern dish).
Corn can also be used to make fabrics, grain alcohols, plastics, and syrups. There are also new fuel experiments such as adding a corn mixture as a popular gasoline additive, ethanol.
When harvesting corn, do it in the morning, when the ears are cool. Refrigerate them immediately or put the corn in a cooler and layer it with ice. Sweet corn can be canned in a pressure canner, but most people like to freeze the corn because it is a faster process. Blanched corn off the cob takes up much less freezer space compared to whole ears.
Most sweet corn varieties are complex hybrids, so don’t expect good results from saving and replanting the seeds. To save seeds from open-pollinated varieties, allow perfect ears to dry on the plants until the husks turn tan. Continue to dry them indoors until a few kernels fall away when you twist the ear between your hands. Store seeds in a cool, dry place for up to two years.