One of our favorite summer vegetables is sweet, corn-on-the-cob, steaming hot, fresh from the kettle, golden butter melting into the crevices and lightly sprinkled with salt. Corn is at its best when freshly picked. I like to cook plenty of extra ears, cutting off the niblets, freezing them to enjoy in winter.
Botanically speaking, corn is truly a grass and a grain, not a vegetable. While all corn is the same species, there are basically six different types: sweet corn, flour corn, dent corn, popcorn, Chinese miniature corn and flint. Sweet corn is for human consumption, and dent corn, the most generally grown, is for animal feed. Flour corn is easy to grind, and flint corn is a harder corn that makes an excellent corn meal and stores better than other types.
Corn comes in a wide variety of colors: small, white niblets, large yellow kernels, and extremely colorful red, almost black and blue. It is a high carbohydrate food, and has been an important nutritional resource for thousands of years. Native Americans taught early New Englanders how to cultivate corn, and how to cook the kernels for succotash and corn chowder, and how to grind them into cornmeal for bread and puddings.
For many years, I never, ever had a successful corn crop, harvesting at most a dozen pitiful ears. Corn seeds germinate poorly in soil temperatures below 60 degrees, and typically the soil at Rabbit Hill isn’t warm enough here to plant until the 4th of July. Even then, the plants were often spindly and scarce. Just when what little corn that did mature, the raccoons would beat me to it!
Determined to enjoy my own tender-crisp, sweet corn, I’ve discovered a few techniques.
A good size for a nice, lush corn patch is 10 feet x 12 feet. In this space, one can cultivate at least four rows of plants, necessary for proper pollination. Good pollination provides ears of corn that are well-filled.
To get a jump start on the weather, I start my corn seed in 4 inch peat pots in the greenhouse, a technique that I learned from Beth Haines of Fisher Farm in Winterport. When the soil has reached at least 65 degrees, usually around July 4, sixty robust plants are ready for the garden.
Because the midnight raiders are always a challenge, we use a low, electric fence with a solar powered battery. And the best and easiest time to fence the patch is when you plant it. Squash or cucumbers growing in the patch deter coons, sometimes, but a fence is the best guarantee.
The recipe for Summer Corn Pudding is from my archives. This tasty custard – like dish is thickened by pureeing half of the corn in the food processor. In this recipe, dried or fresh basil and a Maine cheese of your choice contribute to the flavors. You can also make this versatile pudding with other cooked vegetables, seasoning with dill or parsley. Cheddar cheese, manchego, smoked gouda, or goat cheese: all cheese is delicious.
Before industrial agriculture and genetically modified seeds, corn was an important nutritional resource for thousands of years. Once picked, the flavors start to rapidly decline. To savor the sweet taste of summer even longer, make a batch of freezer corn. Cook up a mess of corn, cut the kernels from the cobs, and freeze the remainder to enjoy in Summer Corn Pudding all this winter.
Summer Corn Pudding
- 2 cups sweet corn*
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1½ tablespoons all purpose flour use corn meal for gluten free
- 1 cup milk
- 2 eggs
- Maine sea salt and fresh pepper to taste
- 2 ounces Maine cheese (goat or cow) grated if needed
- 1 tablespoon chopped basil (optional)
- Assemble ingredients and tools.
- Grease an 8” x 8” glass baking pan. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Using a food processor, pulse 1 cup of the sweet corn until chopped. Scrape the chopped corn into a large bowl.
- Add the remaining corn, basil and flour to the bowl and stir.
- Whisk in the milk and eggs. Season the mixture with sea salt and fresh pepper.
- Pour the mixture into the baking dish.
- Sprinkle the Maine cheese over the mixture, and if desired, sprinkle the top with chopped fresh herbs.
- Bake the pudding in the oven until set, about 25 to 35 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.
- Summer Corn Pudding may be served hot, cold or at room temperature.