Corn, not always from a can

Growing up in the northern Virginia suburbs, corn came from a can, year round. These days, it comes from the Saturday farmers market or our CSA subscription; whole ears of sweet corn, thin, pale silk tassling out the ends, deposited into the canvas bag, driven to our old house in southern Albemarle County. Corn on the cob is summer to me.

My mom shopped at Safeway. With a family of nine, (middle child) I remember helping with dinner, reaching for the can opener, adjusting the magnet to lock down on a 15 oz. can of house brand yellow corn, the flat-toned whirr of the motor about as appealing as the metallic taste. Two or three cans would be VEGETABLE portion of dinner, heated in a large aluminum pot on the stove. Once on my plate, I remember when the salt was passed my way, an automatic 180 vertical pour would follow until my Mom cried out “KathyMimiTerri, you know who you are, STOP with the salt already!”

I come from a large extended family, 50 first cousins on the Summers side. Get togethers were twice a year, big to-do events at Christmas and July 5th, the mid summer birthday of my maternal grandmother, Ma, as she liked to be called. She was always surrounded by adults, of the great aunt, family friend, uncle and older cousin variety. I have a single memory of time actually spent close to Ma. It’s brief, altered by years and we weren’t alone, but its the smallest gathering I remember when we spent more than 15 minutes in the same room.

I accompanied my Mom one day for the drive over to Ma’s house, a large 2-story house on the family tobacco farm in rural Upper Marlboro, MD. We went for a day of canning. I walked in the field as others harvested the corn, my eyes straining upward, arms brushing the tall stalks. Settled on the back porch, I helped shuck and clean the ears of sweet corn, noticing the unique color variations in kernels. Kitchen was full of Aunts with aprons, mason jars of stewing tomatoes, green beans, and voices telling me to get out from underfoot. My mother didn’t can at home and admitted defeat with early attempts at her own vegetable gardening. Too many other things to do as the original soccer mom, bank, chauffeur, maid, cook and book report editor. Thus, corn was canned and squash was frozen.

I admit, I still periodically stock the cabinet with canned corn in late fall and winter when we’re all craving a batch of corn and potato chowder. When I started at feast! 3 years ago, Cruz was working register and her fabulous Esquite corn salad was for sale in the summer months on the produce boat. Creamy corn, hint of mayo and lime, mmmm, sold out regularly.  Megan and Zuri in the feast! cafe have diligently experimented with the recipe and created their own version. I give it high marks, Cruz would too. Considered a fantastic side salad or dip for chips, feast’s version is made with sweet corn, lime juice, piave cheese, mayo, chives, salt and pepper, then finished with a light sprinkling of paprika.

I’ve got plans to learn how to can, especially with a counter full of heirloom tomatoes beckoning me and the next CSA pick up looming later today. We are loving the fresh corn at our house, roasted and crumbled with blue cheese, or slathered in butter, fingers slipping off those plastic pronged holders poking out the ends of each ear. Our new favorite dish and potluck staple is the mexican corn salad ala feast. I tell you, there’s no need to reach for the salt shaker.


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