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Farmstand etiquette

  • k

An annual plea to people who buy corn from farmstands.

Too many people rip perfectly good ears of corn open and throw it back on the pile. I was trained from my earliest years that this was profoundly rude, akin to taking a bit out of fruit at the market and putting it back, because it accelerates the drying and starching of the violated ear of corn.

You can tell a lot from just looking at and feeling the unopened ear. A lot. I never open an ear of corn, and though I buy a half dozen ears of corn virtually every week of the season, on average I get maybe one or two ears with some weirdness per season. And I have been doing this for at least 15 years running. Buy an extra ear if you are worried, but don't spoil the corn for everyone else, please.

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    1. Thank you!

      What are these jerks looking for, anyway? Most of the ears of corn they throw back on the pile look perfectly fine.

      I always just feel for a nice firm ear, and maybe buy one or two extra. I rarely get a dud.

      7 Replies
      1. re: Cloudy

        Sorry, guys, but ever since I had a bunch of giant ugly corn worms crawl out of the tops of some very expensive ears of farm stand corn, I have peeled back the top inch or so before buying. And I will continue to do so.

        1. re: Susan H

          I'm a peeler too, and I don't throw corn back unless the peeling shows worms or dried-out kernels.

          1. re: Bob W.

            maybe you should take these ears of corn to the people at the cash register or anyone who is wandering around offering help, instead of throwing a damaged product back for other people to buy. If you don't bring a problem to someone's attention its safe to assume that they can't help you.

            1. re: renee

              The problem from the store or stand's point of view is not people who find worms or damaged corn, it's people who throw back pretty good corn in hope of finding a better ear.

              1. re: rjka

                and those people are not thoughtful people, throwing back perfectly good food that they've had their hands all over and inside.

                1. re: renee
                  JK Grence (the Cosmic Jester)

                  Anyone who has been to a restaurant has no right to complain about someone else touching their food. If my memory serves me correctly, Julia Child had said that when served very artfully prepared food, she can't help but think that somebody's hands have been all over it.

              2. re: renee

                Fortunately my corn sense is so good that I rarely open a wormy ear.

                If you shop at a farm stand where wormy ears are a regular discovery, maybe a change of venue is in order.

        2. Contrarian, maybe -- but...

          Out here in Phila/S. Jersey, the corn (and tomatoes) are late. So, about two weeks ago, I went to one of my fav S. Jersey farms, this one has a store w/it. The corn kinda skimpy looking -- and expensive. So, I peeled back the very top of the silk just to get a peek at the tip of the ear. Sure nuff: Undeveloped kernels at the tip, *very* small kernels beneath. The corn shouldn't have been harvested -- or should at least have been accompanied by a disclaimer. I peeked at four. I ended up buying 1/2 dozen, expecting disappointment, and I wasn't disappointed in that expectation.

          Next week, tried a different produce farm store. Again checked the corn. I peeked at 2. These looked much better. I bought 2 doz. and was completely happy.

          I don't think it's fair to compare buying corn to buying fruit. A little squeeze will tell you more about an avocado or peach than an ear of corn. Nevertheless, I always try fruit before buying if I can (cherries, raspberries, blueberries). I'll even nibble a leaf of spinach, romaine, endive, to see if it merits a buy.

          Sorry, but to me, peeking at corn is part of the marketing process.

          6 Replies
          1. re: cinghiale
            Caitlin McGrath

            I'm with Karl on this one; it's easy enough to tell by feel through the husks and silk if the kernels are plump or undeveloped or missing, and whether they fill the whole cob. It's not a little squeeze, but running your thumb up and down and around the cob with enough pressure to feel the kernels inside. All it takes is a bit of practice, just like assessing any other fruit or vegetable does.

            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

              Yep. You described it well. Actually, it seems to be more accurate than visual inspection.

            2. re: cinghiale

              I'm with you. My Mom always peeked at a couple of ears before buying corn. She grew up on a farm, so I assume there's no ettiquette breech, at least from the farmer's perspective.

              1. re: danna

                In my experience, peeking is rare compared to ripping.... And that is wasted produce for the farmer.

                1. re: Karl S.

                  I'm sure you're right. Bad manners, stupidity and wastefulness do seem to be on the rise, whatever the venue.

                  Oooh, that sounded harsh, need to go get caffeine and sugar!

              2. re: cinghiale

                Don't squeeze the peaches! Even a gentle squeeze can ruin a perfectly good peach. Smell it instead...or ask the person running the stand to choose some good ones for you. If they choose well for you, be a repeat customer. I usually ask, "Are you here every week?", even when I know good and well that they are...but that puts them on notice that I may be looking for them again.

              3. I too take a little look--never so far as to peel the husk back, but sort of wending through the silk and top leaves, just to see the top few rows of kernals. Is that not okay? I'd hate to be ruining produce for the rest of the crowd, but I'd also hate to be bringing home bad corn!

                1 Reply
                1. re: Dupont

                  Most corn rippers that I witness do far more than that.

                2. I *HATE* that!!!
                  I have tried pointedly asking people why they throw back the (now ruined) ears that they do. It seems to me that they are just searching for "perfection". I like to soak my corn in the husk and grill them that way. I can't even remember when I last got a wormy ear. If I choose "badly" and the top is not great, I simply snap it off.
                  Thanks for letting me vent!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: mirage

                    Mmmmm, yeah....corn grilled in the husk. Can't beat it.

                    1. re: GG Mora

                      When I BBQ corn I pull the husk back but not off, remove the silk, and add herbed butter, then put the husk back, you can use a piece of husk as a tie, and then BBQ....
                      As for checking corn at the market...I can usually tell a good ear by the weight , and if the silk is not too brown. If I get a worm when I get home it doesnt bother me! That's organic. But I do want ears with kernels that are small and tender! Last night I had to throw away 2 out of 5 ears because the kernels were actually dried out a bit, and they were from that mornings market. What if a farmer is trying to sell too old, big kerneled, too starchy corn? I hate to tell you all but I will be taking a little peek before I buy that farmer's corn again.
                      I agree that poking the corn is really disgusting.

                  2. I'm a minor peeler,just the tip to see if the corn is wormy or not. If it is, I will toss the ear into the trash or alert the vendor (it happens very rarely I'm happy to announce). The rest of the inspection is from the outside with small squeezes to feel the kernals. To put perfectly good corn that has been heavily handled back in the bin makes no sense!

                    It's the peelers who not only peel the corn back BUT jab a fingernail into a kernel or two that drive me wild! When I looked horrified at a woman doing this once, she explained to me very politely (and as if I were a child) that that was the best way to see if a ear of corn was good and juicy or not. She wants the ear to squirt at her. If not, she tosses it back! EEEEEWWWWWW!!!!!!!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: SisterT

                      OK, I feel better. I pull the husk back a little to be able to peek at the tip of the cob nothing is really removed in the process and husk and silk are intact.

                      I had no idea that people were ripping husks back, sticking their fingernails in them and tossing them back. ewwwwww

                      1. re: LisaLou

                        Have just come back from little family farm stand about three or four streets away where corn has just been picked...have been buying corn and veggies from this stand for as long as I've lived here...which is close to 40 years.. and at $5.00 a dozen you can bet I'm going to check as I always have the tip..but NEV ER, EVER would I think of poking them with a nail..yechh. As the computer conpany traffic takes a short cut by his farm he starts a second picking at 4:00 so it's picked fresh. What I like to do is put the water on, send Parrot Pop to pick up some corn., peel quickly, drop in the hot water let it come to boil again and shut off...and it finishes cooking while we are eating.. His tomatoes aren't out yet...

                    2. s

                      This is so prevalent at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market and Whole Foods.
                      These people are looking for "ultra perfect magazine photo food porn" corn, not worms.
                      Too many inconsiderate people husk the corn, poke their nails into the kernels, then toss it back into the pile.
                      If you damage/open the package/cornhusk, then you better damn well buy the product.
                      This is so prevalent at the Yupscale San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market and Whole Foods.

                      1. I haven't heard anything from the owner's or store's perspective about this. Perhaps some sort of sign stating faq about corn and how to inspect and what to do with bad ears might be helpful. I don't find myself bleeding for those who make no attempt to correct a problem they might feel is epidemic. Perhaps corn is so plentiful they simply don't care. BTW, I don't even look at corn that has been tampered with if I can spot it.

                        1. b
                          Bride of the Juggler

                          Two good solutions to this problem:

                          1. I've seen farmers put a row of peeled-open corn in the front, to show the quality of the corn. This cuts down on the need to peek.

                          2. Buying the perfectly good, slightly ripped open corn other people have ripped open and rejected, assuming you're going to eat it that day.

                          1. Coming from corn country, what is profoundly rude is that the farmer/attendant doesn't rip back the husk on each for you before they bag it. Besides checking for worms they should be making sure the kernels are developed, but not large and starchy - which is a problem I see more and more. The rejects just go back into the feedbin on the farm along with the couple hundred acres of feed corn. But I ranted about this yesterday on the other board.

                            I don't understand the fingernail thing though or throwing back good corn, but I don't understand a lot of things people do.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: muD

                              Is it just me or is the skin on corn getting much tougher? The stuff coming up from the Carolinas this spring just seemed hard and not particularly flavorful. Local Jersey corn I bought at Wegmans yesterday was very fresh but watery from all the rain we've been having in the northeast. Has anyone had any really good corn with small tender kernels yet?

                              1. re: Ellen

                                It really varies. An overabundance of water does seem to dilute flavor, as you note (also true for many fruits, so watch your orchards, too). But I had some lovely white corn this weekend from the Concord area west of Boston; the yellow and bicolor varieties were, however, bland.

                              2. re: muD

                                Well, I would love that if I was cooking the corn the day I bought it and brought a cooler, but since what we normally get in the Northeast these days is the semi-enhanced hybrids (with a few heirloom varieties and super-enhanced varieties thrown in for good measure), I normally prefer my maize intacta, as it were, in which state it seems to keep much better in the coldest part of my frig for a couple of days (shock! horrors!).

                                1. re: muD

                                  a few weeks back i mentioned in a posting the notion of negotiating a price at a farmstand and was immediately chastised by a number of people for daring to undermine the small family farm

                                  the farmers i know in connecticut, vermont, and ny who maintain farmstands all seem to feel that they price their produce on the assumption that the buyer is accumulating small amounts; when I look for a bushel of tomatoes that are priced by the pound even though i want an entore bushel I ask what the bushel price is, and dialogues have been known to ensue, never irate or annoyed

                                  i raise it here because there seems to be an unstated premise in some of the posts in this thread that farmers are meek, mild, helpless, and fragile, while my experience is just the opposite -- they seem pretty adept at addressing problems like the corn peeling issue (either with signs, or verbal interventions, or, more helpfully, by throwing an extra ear or two in for free or by peeling back each ear a bit at the register)

                                  1. re: john farago

                                    I've met a lot of farmers and never met a meek one, helpless or fragile one. A lot of quiet ones, some who are resigned and several grumpy ones, but all of them enjoy leading people on.

                                2. The way people treat food at farmstands is really astounding, as this corn discussion has revealed.

                                  Perhaps more upsetting to me is seeing people *squeeze* the peaches, then *throw* them back into the pile. Over and over again. I buy peaches at either the Union Square or 57th Street greenmarkets two to three times a week, and the squeezing and throwing is the prevailing behaviour. Each of these squeezed and thrown peaches is now ruined, and probably will suffer a fate worse than becoming feed - I suspect they go into the garbage.

                                  I find that gently placing the peach in my whole hand is a more than adequate way to see how it feels, and besides, peaches cannot be picked really ripe if they're going to be shipped by truck in crates - when I pick ripe peaches at an orchard they barely make it home intact when I nestle them in a blanket, shade them from the sun and crank up the A/C.

                                  My approach: educate. I say, "Geez, isn't it a shame how bruised all these peaches are from people digging their fingers in to them? They'll just rot, now." Today I had a woman say, "Really? I guess I'm a culprit. I never thought of it."

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Tara


                                    Please tell us of any Peach orchards nearby (NJ, CT or Upstate NY) where I may pick my own peaches. Address and directions if possible. Peaches are my greatest fruit passion.

                                    Thank you.


                                    1. re: Pete Feliz

                                      This web site from the New Jersey Agricultural Dept. should help you locate pick your own peaches.

                                      Search by particular type of produce:


                                      Link: http://www.state.nj.us/jerseyfresh/se...