June 10, 2009

How to Pick Corn


I love cruising the produce section for old ladies. Seriously. They know stuff. They are the magic keepers of all food and cooking knowledge such as how to pick out a good ear of corn, how to pick brussels sprouts and make a mean chicken soup. They are also a great source of hilarity.

Week before last an old lady gave me a stern talking-to about how I needed to be VERY CAREFUL about Kroger's 10 items for $10 bargains because sometimes they are more expensive than the dollar store. She leaned into my bubble pressing me back into the cold glass door of the ice cream case. Before she let me go I had to agree to be as diligent as possible about that extra 20 cents I could be saving by driving across town to the dollar store.

This week I wanted to pick up some corn on the cob still in the husk. I'm making a so-far-futile attempt to roast it on the grill. I realized despite living in the South for nearly my whole life I didn't really know how to pick corn in the husk in the produce section. When I was growing up my grandparents grew corn and you ate whatever was on the stalk whether it was good or not. You picked around the worms and you cut out the bad parts. Growing up in the Old South is fun. Don't even get me started on blackberry picking. None of this stuff applies to my own offspring since we live in the "New South". Sadly, as much as I joke about how I was raised and who raised me the place really has lost quite a bit of its charm due to modernization, environmental changes, technological advances and more.

It's still good though, especially with the old timers in the produce section.

Out of the corner of my eye I spy an old lady poring over a pyramid of oranges. She walked by me to get a plastic sack. I sprang into action.

"Excuse me, can you tell me the best way to pick out good corn?"

She sized me up to see if the question was worth answering. "You need to get the ones from Florida or Colorado. Where are these from?"

"Um..." I glanced around for stickers or signage. Nothing. I glanced sideways at her to see if she might be joking. Definitely not joking. I looked at the corn. It looks like every other piece of corn in existence. Feeling like a big failure for no reasonable reason I said, "I have no idea where this corn is from."

"You have to open them to see if they are good."

That seemed really wrong and impolite, like undressing your prom date when she greets you at the door just to make sure she looks good first before you go to the dance. Once you open the corn you can't just close it back. It turns disheveled and unkempt, ruffled and wasted and untidy.

The Corn Lady's hands grabbed roughly at the corn husk and ripped one side down with a shredding noise. The produce guy was just a few feet to my left and I figured he'd launch himself airborne over his box of artichokes and knock down the corn assaulters. He was oblivious to us over there roughing up the cobs, so to speak.

I gently peeled the top part of the corn down enough to see the top. Good color, firm kernels. In a pageant for good looking corn this one would be Miss Iowa or maybe Miss Tennessee. Another one had a pointy shriveled tip. The Corn Lady clucked with disdain. "Oh no, don't get that one. It's moldy. YOUNG MAN!"

I blinked. Who addresses anyone by "young man" anymore? The produce guy froze for a second obviously processing the auditory input. Finally he looked up. "Yes ma'am?"

"Where is this corn from?"

"Florida."

The Corn Lady nodded to me with much satisfaction. "Any time you see corn from Florida or Colorado, get it. It's really good. We had corn from Florida last week and it was sweet and excellent."

"Florida or Colorado. Right. Well, thanks for showing me about the corn. I learned something new today and any day you learn something new is a good day, right?" God, did I just fall out of a 1950's television show? What is wrong with me?

Campy dialogue aside, though, it's true, right? What new thing have you learned today?

53 comments :

  1. Hello I really like your blog, I would like a link exchange with you,
    I insert your blog to my favorite blogs ;)

    the address of my blog is: http://marcocrupifoto.blogspot.com/

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  2. i enjoyed reading this post.
    great story.

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  3. Ha, love it! This reminded me that once when I was 12, I spent a week selling corn (in Florida, so it was delish!), picking corn, and shucking corn. My friend's dad owned the field, and he told us we could keep all the profits. It was ten cents an ear if we had picked it, or folks could pick their own for 5 cents.

    I still remember the mud, and the worms, and the way the corn leaves will cut you. I'm not sure if that was the old south or the New South. LOL!

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  4. Corn is a big deal in Manitoba, and as soon as they start ripening in the fields, EVERYBODY goes and buys them, preferably on the way home from the beach. We even have a festival (half) dedicated to corn: Morden's Corn and Apple Festival (http://www.cornandapple.com/index.shtml). Enjoy!

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  5. I learned that they grow corn in Colorado!

    When buying corn in the husk, I always just go for the biggest ears. It only makes sense when they sell them 8 for $2!

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  6. This corn lady sounds just like my great grandma. This is exactly how she told me to pick good corn still in the shuck. Its amazing how much the older generation knows about things like this, that youger people now will probably never have any idea about.

    Love your blog, always nice to see another Arkansan!

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  7. I remember the part about turning the corn down to see it ... My Mom knew that ... oh, my Mom would be like the lady at the store ... they knew so much didn't they ?

    I don't do corn on the cob now. I probably should buy some and bbq it...

    I'll took to see where it's from only we have pretty good corn here in WA ...

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  8. Haha! That's awesome! I love the old ladies that just jump right into your life wherever you are, LOL!

    We have been roasting corn quite a bit lately with the warm weather and finally no rain! I always leave the husks on. Soak them in the sink full of water for a about 30 minutes before you put them on the grill. Leave the husks on, it helps them steam and hold in all the sweetness and moisture.

    Depending on how hot the grill is, cook time varies. Normally we cook on "medium" and know the corn is done when the husk starts blackening. Perfect roasted corn every time!!

    :)

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  9. I'd heard that's how corn was picked when it's in the husk. Even now I see people pulling the husk away and checking its tenderness and overall quality. Love that remark about the prom date. Hope all is well. Have a great day.

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  10. Only you would think of comparing opening corn to undressing a prom date...

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  11. I had no idea 'they' grew corn in Colorado. I suppose that mere fact slipped my mind since I'm an Iowan--we grow our own corn. In addition to having oodles of cobs produced here, we also have a plethora of elderly women who jump at the chance to educate another in the ever-confusifying produce aisles. (Granted, w settle for the ones at Wal-Mart or Hyvee.)

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  12. Hi, that was a great post. Made me laugh and I needed that today.

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  13. Wendy, you are one savvy shopper! Always go with the old lady's tips! My grandmother always tasted grapes and cherries before buying them. (Was that shoplifting?!!)

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  14. Loved the post AND Kristian's reply - too funny!

    My mom also taught me to pull back the husk ... but only about an inch and a half, so you can pat it back into place and no one will be the wiser.

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  15. Huh? You know they sell that stuff in the freezer section without all that crazy green stuff around it, right?

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  16. Funny, here I am in Florida and corn always makes me think of Ohio & my relatives' farms. Who knew that my very own Sunshine State had the corner on corn?

    To answer your question about what new thing I've learned today, I've learned that you visited my blog! Thank you so much for stopping by. You are one rockin' blogger!

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  17. Loved, it Wendy! Also love Uncle Jeeter's comments.

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  18. That corn from Florida or Colorado is apparently the best corn! Going to the produce section PRONTO!

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  19. Great post. Corn is grown in Florida?! I lived there for 18 years and never saw corn. Oranges, alligators and retirees - yes. Corn - no. So, that is what I've learned.

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  20. At this point, I think the only state not growing corn is Rhode Island, but it's not for lack of trying.

    It's just a question of finding enough space...and the fact that Mrs. Nelson, who prides herself on having an impeccable front lawn, keeps bribing the kids next door to run over the season's crop with her lawnmower.

    It's a very small state.

    Kristian
    Coquetting Tarradiddles

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  21. This reminds me of the time when I was at Jewel-Osco perusing the meat section for a deal on chicken breasts. With my cart just behind me, (an inch or so) I turned slightly to look at the pricing on the chicken meat labels, when a shriveled, boney hand grabbed my wrist.

    I jumped 20 feet into the air! Right in front of me was a not more than 5 foot elderly woman, no more than 123 years old.

    She said something to me that I'll never forget. With my one hand pinned down by her surprisingly strong hand, she took her other hand, and pointed her finger at me and said.
    "Young lady, never, never turn your back on your purse".
    She let go, and continued on her way.
    I looked at my cart, with my purse in the front seat section and made sure she didn't swipe anything (you never know, she could have had a senior accomplice moving into stealing my goods when I was preoccupied by the old lady's stern reprimand).
    As it turns out, she was just trying to be a good citizen...teaching young whippersnappers something useful...

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  22. I smiled,,,
    I can't believe that I just sat here and read a goof story about corn. I smiled the whole time. All I could think of was when I had my first garden, my wife told my oldest daughter (about 4 at the time), that they were going to "clean" some corn. My wife missed her for a few minutes and then the little one returned from inside the house with a wash cloth and a bar of soap.. lololo.. I gotta call her right now. I want to talk to her. yall feel free to visit my first attempt a a blog site. my goodness ,, please do not stop this madness..lololol

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  23. That is so true! I, too, ask advice from the older generation at the grocery store! My grandfather always used to, at some point in the dinner conversation, sneak in some comments about how he got these tomatus (tuh-may-tuhs) for 20 cents cheaper down the road. He, too, used to pull the corn's silks down to check it out before he bought it.

    colorado corn... hmmmm.

    very funny and witty and beautifully written, as usual. ;)

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  24. I just learned something new! Thanks for a great story! :)

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  25. My HEB grocery store has a big trashcan by the corn so after pulling down the husk a little to make sure it's good, you can go ahead and shuck your corn there if you're not planning on grilling it with the husks on. I love not having to mess with all the messy silks at home!

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  26. Great post! I learned something new! I love your "undressing the prom date" analogy too! I am like you--too nervous to mess with the merchandise. :)

    And I miss blackberry picking, too!

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  27. Interesting. I'll remember, next time, to ask where the corn came from. And to seek help from old ladies hanging out in produce.

    My only tip is lettuce picking and it's not much of one. I was showing Mr. M the other day how to pick up heads of romaine and examine the outside leaves, and feel how heavy the heads were (like you do with iceberg).

    Another woman said the romaine had been over-watered and to be sure to shake out the water before the one I bought was weighed. So there you have it, my sort-of tip.

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  28. haha ... cruising the produce section for old ladies ... genius!

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  29. I remember spending whole afternoons (or at least whole minutes) in my young years shucking corn with my Great Grandmother. I have no idea why we were shucking so much corn, and I don't particularly remember eating it, but I do remember the husk stripping and my Great Grandma's able hands.

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  30. We have had corn out our ears (no pun intended). A couple of weeks ago my father-in-law came across a deal he just couldn't pass up. He bought a WHOLE TRUCKLOAD of corn for $40. He stopped at about 10 houses on the way home and gave them as much corn as they wanted. There was still an enormous amount of corn left for us by the time he made it home.

    We put up corn for almost a whole week. This entailed shucking the corn, picking off the silks, washing it, cutting off bad parts, blanching it, wrapping it, bagging it, and freezing it.

    We ate corn until we were sick of it. After about 5 days straight of eating corn, I had to put my foot down. No more corn! I don't think I'll want any corn for months.

    My mother-in-law told Pops that he better NEVER come home with a truck full of corn or any other vegetable again, no matter how cheap it is.

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  31. i dig my fingernails into avacados to see if they are good before buying....figuring if it's good i'll buy it and use it, if not they shouldn't be selling it.

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  32. We always check corn like that here. They actually have a place to put the husks at the grocery store so that you can peel them. This is usually done at the store so that you don't make a mess at home. I disagree with the corn location, though. I love my Michigan corn. :D

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  33. Great post. While I did know how to pick corn already I had no idea that it was good if it was from Florida or Colorado. I'm sure if I asked someone at my grocery store where the corn came from they'd think I was nuts!

    But you're right, old(er) ladies do know everything. I'm constantly on the cell phone with my grandmother while in the grocery store!

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  34. I learnt there is no end to learning :)

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  35. I'm in Finland these days and even with the language differences I'm still chatting with old ladies in the market. Gotta love 'em! Thanks for the fun visuals of home. But after reading your post I am So mourning the lack of sweet corn on the cob. Yum! Apparently, corn needs darkness to grow? So it doesn't do well in these light- until-midnight summers.

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  36. The older folks, they take their groceries quite seriously. The older my granny gets (now 96) the longer her trips to the grocery last. And, yes, she will drive (now, be driven) across town five or six times to save 14 cents on a can of soup!

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  37. Forgive me, I think I left a comment for someone else here when I had a bunch of windows open. Here's what I mean to write for you... Everywhere we've lived in the US, come summer the people are obsessed with corn. Growing up in Va. nothing could trump silver queen corn grown in mathew county's soil. To check it out, we peaked by pulling back the husks with out thumbnails as if opening a curtain. thanks for sharing such a great summer story!

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  38. To grill the corn, soak it in water for about 20-30mins before putting on the grill and then turn often for about 20 mins :)

    Old Lady feelings aside, nothing beats Ohio sweet corn in late summer. Yum!

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  39. I gotta tell you Wendy, this really hits home for me.
    Back when we first started the fruit stand out under a tree with a picnic table, we had the corn in big pile for folks to pick through and bag themselves. Trouble was everybody wanted to peel back the husks and pop kernels with their filthy fingernails. And then decide they didn't want those ears. Who the heck is going to buy them now? So a lot of corn was wasted by jackass corn experts.
    Now we bag it up ourselves. If you really insist on seeing an ear open, we'll let you do that. But we do our best to pick big full ears (and either eat the small ones for supper or give them to the cows.)
    Usually you can feel through the husk if it's a nice full ear. You can also tell by the condition of the husk (green and fresh) and the silk (dry and brown.)
    Phew! Sorry for that rant! :) Farm Market Pet Peeve!

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  40. I feel a little better having read this post. I, too, grew up in the country although noone from the South considers Missouri the South (not even the Southwestern most tip of Missouri). The point is, not only am I from the country, I am from a long line of people who would, given the chance, live on watermelon and I couldn't pick a good watermelon to save my life! I try and I try but it's either never ripe enough or too ripe. pffft!

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  41. Hrmmm, I've seen this before, Gertrude. It's known by scientists working in the scientific field of Science as "Goldilocks Disorder".

    The recommended course of treatment is a simple, three-step process.

    1.) Obtain a baby bear, perhaps from an unscrupulous traveling carny.

    2.) Go to the market, enter the produce section, and set the cub down in front of the watermelons.

    3.) Carefully observe his actions to determine your optimal melon, as he will invariably select the one that is juuuuuuuust right!

    Kristian
    Coquetting Tarradiddles

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  42. Wendy you have so many blogs! This one looks interesting, I'll be following. I'm guessing you're somewhere east of SB now? :)

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  43. You mean it doesn't just come in tins? That's what I've learnt today. Honest. I need little old ladies like that in my supermarket,

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  44. I know how to grill corn - I have two methods, one with the husk and one in tinfoil - To grill in the husk, you peel the husk but don't tear it off - and leave the big leaves intact, remove all the hairy stuff, put the husk around the corn and tie it off with a sliver of one of the elaves. Stick it on the grill, when it catches on fire it is usually ready

    Or wrap in tinfoil - and about 10 minutes

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  45. And here I thought you ran amok telling everyone in the produce section about the evils of celery.

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  46. I've learned I'm homeless...

    Well, now feel like Eeyore, raining on the parade.

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  47. Hahaha! Don't you just love those old ladies? I plan to be just like it!

    That's the way I pick out corn on the cob, too. I peel the shuck down a little way and poke the kernels. Shiny and fat and dewy-looking and not too dark? Buy it! Shrivelled and orange? Uh-uh.

    Most of ours is from Europe though. No florida corn here, as far as I know!

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  48. Cooking questions always go to my mom. Even if she hasn't done it she usually has suggestions. I have been known to be in the middle of the supermarket and call her with questions like this.

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  49. What new thing have I learned today? Not to ask any {other} old ladies, questions in the super market. >,-)

    And I'm sure that your South has lost quite a bit of its charm... due to modernization. So I guess, you still should gather up any bits of 'old time' info, you can. While they're still walking around, and can tell you. ,-)

    'Aunt Amelia'

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  50. Oh, Gosh...this is too funny! Made me laugh...=)

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  51. Hmm..what did I learn today? Well..that it's nice to put up your flag on flag day but that it's a good idea to take it down before the sun goes down or your neighbor will give you the "fish eye" and tell you how disrespectful it is and how in his day....
    Anyway..that's what I learned!
    :)
    P.S. My flags down, properly folded and put away.
    Mona

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