Corn, the golden essence of summer and okra, a garden giant, were the two features at last week’s ‘Grow and Graze’ event. A panel discussion led by master gardener, Linda Alexander also included Dorothy Shockley, master gardener and vegetable specialist, along with Jeff Raska, Horticulture Program Assistant, Dallas County.
Starting with an historical look into the recorded beginnings of both crops, our panelists shared helpful suggestions and tips for growing them in our home gardens.
Some sources say that corn’s true origins date back 10,000 years ago to the pre-Columbian civilization. It is native to southern Mexico.
There are 5 main classes of corn:
Dent – called dent because of the small dent in top of the kernel. Used for livestock, the dinner table when harvested early enough, cornmeal and oil.
Flint – or Indian corn, this the colorful corn used for fall décor.
Flour – used for starches, flour, cornmeal and masa harina.
Popcorn – for popping, also can be colorful. Interestingly, any dried corn will “pop”.
Sweet – open pollinated and hybrid. The hybrid sweet corn is what we find in our markets today.
Growing corn requires full sun, well prepped soil and varieties recommended for our area:
Kandy Korn, Silver Queen, How Sweet it Is, Merit, G90.
Plant corn seed 8” to a foot apart and always in a square or rectangle to help with pollination. Dorothy recommends putting two seeds in each hole and then thinning out the smaller one. Pollination should start in about two months.
Corn takes about 70 to 80 days to maturity. The tassel starts to emerge about 20 days before maturity. In that 20-day period, the most interesting part of the pollination takes place. The tassel, the male part of the plant appears. The tassel has anthers that will open up and spray the pollen. As this is happening, the silks, the female part of the plant emerges from the ear. The silks will be sticky on the ends, which allows the pollen to stick. The leaves will also be collecting some pollen. Along comes the wind blowing that pollen around your corn patch which connects with the silks. This is the main reason for planting corn in a square or rectangle
and not a single row.
Each one of those silks run down that ear, inside the shuck to a kernel. This pollinates the kernel and it starts to swell or fatten and develop.
Remember, when purchasing corn at the grocery or farmer’s market always buy corn with husks still in place. Look for ears that are full, filled out at the base and fresh silks that are not dried out. And, don’t forget to do the “peel back” test to check for freshness and plump, full
kernels. Ideally, fresh corn should be prepared either the same day or within two days.
*Each corn stalk has two ears. Most ears have exactly 16 rows of kernels. Cut an ear of corn crosswise to see the formation. The number of lines may vary but, generally, every ear of corn
has 400 to 600 kernels.
*The average American eats 25 pounds of corn a year. This include everything from corn-on-the-cob, to cornbread, corn syrup, corn starch and, of course, tortillas.
Enjoy these delicious corn recipes from our picnic-style lunch and you might be well on your way to consuming the yearly average of 25 pounds per person.
Santa Fe Corn Soup
3 ½ cups fresh corn kernels (8 to 12 ears), or frozen corn
1 cup chicken broth
¼ cup butter
2 cups milk (or 1 cup evaporated milk and 1 cup water)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons canned chiles, rinsed and diced
1 cup cubed cooked chicken
1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup diced fresh tomatoes
Garnish: Fresh oregano and fried tortilla triangles
Combine corn and chicken broth in blender or food processor and puree.
In 3-quart saucepan combine butter and corn mixture and simmer slowly 5 minutes, stirring to keep corn from sticking to bottom of pan. Add milk, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper and bring to boil. Reduce heat and add chiles and chicken. Simmer 5 minutes.
Remove soup from heat and add cheese and baking soda (to prevent curdling). Stir until melted. To serve, ladle soup into 6 bowls. Top with tomatoes and garnish with tortilla triangles and a sprig of fresh oregano.
Yield: Serve 6
Fresh Corn Cakes with Heirloom Tomato Relish and Tarragon Crème Fraiche
¾ cup yellow cornmeal
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
¾ cup whole milk
1 large egg
2 cups fresh corn kernels
Salt and pepper, to taste
Vegetable oil (for frying)
Tarragon Crème Fraiche (recipe follows)
Heirloom Tomato Relish (recipe follows)
In a large bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, dill, parsley and tarragon.
In a small bowl, whisk together milk and egg until smooth. Add milk mixture to cornmeal mixture, stirring just until combined. Stir in corn kernels.
In a large skillet, pour oil to a depth of ¼ inch. Heat over medium heat. Drop cornmeal mixture by one-fourth cupfuls into hot oil, and cook until golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Let drain on paper towels. Serve corn cakes topped with Tarragon Crème Fraiche and Heirloom Tomato Relish. Garnish with herbs, if desired.
Yield: Makes approximately 18
Tarragon Crème Fraiche
1 (8-ounce) container crème fraiche
2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
In a medium bowl, stir together crème fraiche, tarragon and mustard. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
Yield: Makes approximately 1 cup
Heirloom Tomato Relish
3 large multicolor heirloom tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
In a medium bowl, stir together tomatoes, olive oil, basil, lemon zest, salt and pepper just before serving.
Yield: Makes approximately 2 cups
Corn and Jalapeno Jelly Muffins
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 (10-ounce) package frozen corn kernels, defrosted
¼ cup jalapeno pepper jelly
Preheat the oven to 373˚F. Generously butter 12 muffin cups; each 2 ½ inches in diameter.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and pepper flakes.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, melted butter and corn. Pour the liquid mixture over the dry ingredients and stir lightly, using no more than 15 to 20 strokes, to combine.
Fill each muffin cup about half full with batter; reserve ⅓ of the batter. With the back of a teaspoon, make a small depression in the center of each muffin and drop in
1 teaspoon of jalapeno jelly. Divide the reserved batter over the tops to cover the jelly (do not spread the batter).
Bake in the middle of the oven for 25 minutes, or until light golden on top. Let the muffins rest in the pan for about 2 minutes. Using a blunt knife, ease the muffins out onto a wire rack and let cool for about 20 minutes.
Yield: Makes 12 muffins
Esquites: Mexican Street Corn Salad
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 ears fresh corn, shucked, kernels removed, (about 3 cups fresh corn kernels)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 ounces feta or Cotija cheese, finely crumbled
½ cup finely sliced scallions, green parts only
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and stemmed, finely chopped
1 to 2 medium cloves garlic, pressed or minced on a Microplane grater (about 1 to 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon fresh juice from 1 lime
Chili powder or hot chili flakes, to taste
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet or wok over high heat until shimmering. Add corn kernels, season to taste with salt, toss once or twice, and cook without moving until charred on one side, about 2 minutes. Toss corn, stir, and repeat until charred on second side, about 2 minutes longer. Continue tossing and charring until corn is well charred all over, about 10 minutes total. Transfer to a large bowl.
Add mayonnaise, cheese, scallions, cilantro, jalapeno, garlic, lime juice, and chili powder and toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and more chili powder to taste. Serve immediately.
Yield: Serves 4
Chocolate Polenta Pudding Cake
2 ½ cups whole milk
¾ cup coarsely ground cornmeal
½ cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
Shredded zest of ½ large orange
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs, separated
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
1 tablespoon sugar
Powdered sugar for dusting
In a 2-quart saucepan bring the milk to a boil. Meanwhile, combine the cornmeal, ½ cup sugar and the salt in a medium metal bowl. Whisk in the hot milk until smooth.
Wash out the saucepan, fill it two thirds full of water, and bring it to a simmer. Cover the bowl with foil, set it over the water and cook 40 minutes; the polenta will be thick and stiff. Stir three or four times as it cooks and add water to the pan if necessary.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350˚F. Butter an 8-inch springform pan. Finely chop three quarters of the chocolate and cut the rest into generous 1-inch pieces.
When the polenta is cooked, remove the bowl (or pan) from the water. Blend in the finely chopped chocolate, the orange zest, cinnamon, pepper, yolks, and vanilla. Place 1 cup of this mixture in another bowl and stir the cream into it. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whip the egg whites until frothy. Beat in the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar, and then whip to soft peaks. Fold a quarter of the whites into the non-cream chocolate-polenta mixture to lighten it. Then fold in the rest, leaving a few white streaks. Fold in the chocolate chunks with one or two strokes. Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan. Using a spoon, hollow out the center of the batter so the polenta-cream mixture will sit in a pocket. Add the cream mixture. Cover with the rest of the batter. Sift the cocoa over the top, the sprinkle with sugar.
Bake 1 hour, or until a knife inserted at the edge of the pudding comes out with moist crumbs on it, but when put into the center, comes out with creamy streaks. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes.
Release the sides of the pan and set the cake on a plate. Serve warm or at room temperature, dusted with powdered sugar.
Yield: 1 8” cake (8 servings)
Recipe adapted from “The Italian Country Table”
Sweet Corn Ice Cream with Blackberry Lemon Verbena Sauce
4 ears fresh corn, shucked
1 ½ cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
6 large egg yolks
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ cup sour cream
2 sprigs lemon verbena or ½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 ½ cups blackberries (about 6 ounces)
Using a large knife, slice the kernels off the corn cobs and place in a large saucepan. Break cobs in half and add to the pot along with milk, cream and ½ cup sugar. Bring mixture to a boil, stirring, then remove from heat. Let stand to infuse for 1 hour, the discard corn cobs.
Using an immersion or regular blender, puree kernel mixture. Return mixture to a simmer, then turn off heat. In a small bowl, whisk egg yolks, ⅛ teaspoon salt and another ¼ cup sugar. Add a cup of hot cream mixture to yolks, stirring constantly so they don’t curdle. Add yolk mixture to saucepan, stirring. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until custard thickens enough to coat the spoon, about 10 minutes.
Pass custard through a fine sieve, pressing down hard on the solids. Discard solids. Whisk in sour cream until smooth. Let custard cool in an ice bath, then cover and chill for at least 4 hours.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine remaining 5 tablespoons sugar, lemon verbena sprigs (or zest) and ¼ cup water and bring to a simmer. Let cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar melts and syrup thickens slightly, about 7 minutes. Add blackberries and cook for 5 to 7 minutes longer, until fruit just softens, but doesn’t fall apart. Let cool, then discard verbena.
Freeze corn mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions. Serve with blackberries and syrup on top. Recipes makes 1 ½ pints.
More recipes to follow later this week.