THE ONLY TIME I ever bought fresh corn from the back of a truck, somewhere along Sunland Boulevard in Sunland, California, it turned out to be feed corn. This was a fact I didn’t realize until I placed a platter of the boiled ears on my dining room table, and a guest asked whether I’d noticed that the kernels looked like rotten teeth. I guess I figured that corn of the nongrocery-store variety just looked less than perfect. After one bite, however, I realized it had the flavor and texture of cardboard.
When I tell this story to Adam Sappington, chef and owner of the Country Cat Dinnerhouse in Southeast Portland, he laughs. “The only way I got corn when I was a kid was from the backs of trucks,” he says. “I grew up in the Missouri Corn Belt. The farmers would drive their pickups onto the ball field, put the camper down, and we’d go to town.”
The type of corn Sappington recalls most fondly from those days went by the name Peaches and Cream. “It was really sweet, with big white and yellow kernels,” he says. In Oregon, he was able to find it through Your Kitchen Garden Farm in Canby. Sauvie Island Organics also has provided him with a seemingly endless supply of other sweet varieties. “The first corn they harvest for us in July and August is called Bodacious, which is a little baby corn.” Come September, there will be more, with white or yellow or multicolored kernels and names like Sugar Buns and Silver Queen.
“I think one of the reasons I like their corn so much is that it’s grown on a floodplain, where the soil is loose and sandy, like in Missouri,” Sappington says. “It has characteristics you can’t get in other corn, like juicy, big, tight kernels.”
Sappington loves to use Sauvie Island’s harvest to make succotash, a mélange of corn and shell beans that he enriches with bacon, heavy cream, and chanterelles. It’s a heady dish that dresses corn in the culinary equivalent of a king’s robes.
Sometimes, though, I’m feeling more pauper than prince, and I want corn that’s as naked as can be—which is why I usually slice the kernels off, grab some ripe tomatoes and basil from my (neighbor’s) garden, and give it all a quick toss with oil and lemon juice. And since I now know what kind of corn to look for, it won’t draw the questioning eyes of my guests.
- ½ lb fresh shell beans, such as cranberry beans, hulled
- 1 ½ cups extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cups water
- 2 tbsp salt
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 small bunch Italian parsley
- 2 ears corn
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter
- 3 pieces thick-cut bacon, diced
- 1 onion, peeled and diced
- 2 cups chanterelle mushrooms
- 1 lemon, halved
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In a medium-size baking dish, combine beans, olive oil, water, salt, and a sachet of thyme sprigs, bay leaves, and a few sprigs of parsley.
- Cover and bake, stirring occasionally. Check after 20 minutes, then again every 10 minutes until beans are tender.
- Set aside, discarding sachet.
- In a bowl, stand each corn cob on its end and use a knife to remove the kernels. Set aside.
- In another bowl, use the dull side of the blade to scrape the cobs, releasing the liquid and pulp.
- In a small saucepan, combine the corn liquid and pulp with the heavy cream.
- Heat to a light simmer,stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, melt butter and add bacon. Cook until crisp.
- Pour out half of the rendered fat and add diced onion. Cook until onions are translucent.
- Stir in chanterelles, corn, and cooked shell beans. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Add the corn cream and simmer until slightly thickened.
- Toss with 3 tbsp chopped parsley and a squeeze of lemon.
Corn and Tomato Salad
Serves 3 to 4
- 3 ears white corn, shucked
- 2 red peppers, seeded, quartered, and thinly sliced
- 1 bunch scallions, chopped
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
- 1 large lemon, juiced
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Stand the shucked ears of corn on end and slice down the cobs with a knife, removing the kernels.
- In a large bowl, combine corn and remaining ingredients.