There are a few foods that mark the peak of a Maine summer like sweet corn.
Yesterday, besides beet greens, cucumbers, and string beans, I picked up a “baker’s dozen” ears of corn at Whitewater Farm in New Sharon, Maine.
Once you find the food you love, it’s like the road to an old friend; it’s never far.
Roadside markets offer the opportunity of a few minutes to say hello to strangers and friends. I met new friends Ron Bernard and Donna Sutter who were picking up their own bounty of sweet corn. Don said, “We’ve been coming here for 20 plus years to get this corn. We’re from Augusta. It’s not far, only 30 miles.”
In 1779 the Iroquois gave European settlers ‘Papoon’, or sweet corn. Several Native American tribes grew sweet corn which came of a natural mutation of field corn. The classification difference between sweet corn and field corn is that field corn is harvested when the seeds are dry and hence, is considered a grain.
Sweet corn is harvested before maturity and so is considered a vegetable and nutritionally classified as a “starch” or carbohydrate.
In 1954, a Harvard professor found fossil pollen grains of corn taken from a depth of more than 200 feet in Mexico City. It was believed to date back more than 80,000 years! Then in 1964, the grain was found in dry caves in southern Mexico. Upon excavation of the cave, the grain was found to date back from about 5,000 B.C.
When my husband was growing up, his mom would serve popcorn as a meal.
While it was a starchy meal and short on a variety of nutrients, she was in keeping with anyone who has cereal as a meal and true to the prehistoric history of corn. The genus for corn is derived from the Greek ‘Zea” which is the name for cereal. It’s believed that the corn we have today was derived from the prehistoric corn found in Mexico and had small kernels and would be what we use for popcorn today. So the next time popcorn is on the menu as a meal replacement, remind yourself it’s in keeping with history.
My parents didn’t grow corn because it took up too much gardening space, instead choosing to buy it from local farmers. Along the Sandy River, Pike’s was a farm on the left, heading north out of Farmington, Maine. We would stop at their roadside stand every summer Sunday after church. Mom would select ears based on how full they felt through the husks. Many people split apart the husk to check for insects, but I don’t recall her doing that, trusting instead that each ear would be acceptable. We ate it that night, as sweet corn’s full flavor diminishes as soon as it is harvested, although, today’s corn has been bred for flavor, as well as longevity, so it can be kept in its husk in the refrigerator for a few days without too much loss of flavor or degradation of its starches.
Concerns about GMO sweet corn abound.
Generally, GMO sweet corn is used in the production of other food products such as high-fructose corn syrup, oils, corn chips, livestock feed and ethanol. Buying organic, under current organic standards, helps to ensure the corn you’re buying is not GMO, but ask the farmer how he grows his corn. Corn is on the Environmental Working Group’s 2018 “Clean Fifteen” list of foods least likely to have pesticide residue.
Corn is on the list of foods diabetics need to watch for its effect on blood sugar levels. A medium-size ear has 6 grams of natural sugar which are less than a medium banana and fewer than the same number of grams per serving of beets. However, it’s known as “resistant starch,” which means it’s slow to digest, which some claim makes it a good weight loss assisting food. Its high fiber content leaves you feeling full longer and feeds good gut bacteria.
Corn has many nutritional benefits straight off the cob, raw or cooked by steaming, broiling, or grilling. Young, raw cobs are milky-sweet. Sweet corn is high in lutein and zeaxanthin, phytochemicals that promote healthy eyes. It’s a good source of Vitamin B, iron, protein, and potassium. Cooking decreases its Vitamin C content; cooking increases its ferulic acid which protects our skin and is a compound that fights cancer.