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Fresh corn etiquette

  • f

Corn is not yet in season here in New England but the stores have started to receive some pretty good looking Florida corn. I walked past a big display at Whole Foods and so so many people were practically husking the whole cob and then tossing aside-obviously searching for the "perfect" cob as none of the discarded showed any sign of blemish.

Why do people insist on doing this?? I rarely buy non- native corn preferring to wait for the fresh picked at a few local stores and/or farmers market in my area. But even so when I buy any corn I judge the ears by the feel and the weight. Sure I occasionally get a "bad" ear but they are few and far between. I also find that corn stays sweeter longer if you wait to husk it right before cooking (now that may just be my perception, I have no proof that it is true)

So why all this waste?? Nobody buys the tossed aside ears. Why do people insist on doing this and why is it acceptable? Stores don't allow us to cut open melons or avocados so why corn?

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  1. I have noticed this, too. Not sure why people do it. But some stores actully encourage it.
    The Shaws near me ( where I would not even venture to buy an onion or a potato, no less corn!) puts a large trash barrel next to the corn. Would be interesting if someone in the grocery industry replies.

    3 Replies
    1. re: macca

      I notice the farm stands near me all have signs saying not to pull on the shucks. They yell at you if you do, too.

      1. re: coll

        THe farm where I get my produce does not have a barrel, so don't kow what happens if you shuck it there. I have never gotten a bad ear, so have no reason to open the corn!!

        1. re: macca

          I no longer peel...I feel. I feel for "full" ears...it's amazing how well it works once you get the hang of it.

    2. It is very bad etiquette. Unless you are going to cook the corn immediately, husking can ruin it (and who's gonna eat the superduper sweet kinds of corn it doesn't hurt?) Look at the silks, feel the ear up to size up the size of the grains, buy an extra ear if you are that worried.... Do not open: you break it you buy it.

      I am hoping our surfeit of rain in eastern Massachusetts (19-28 inches over the past month!) will subside. Nothing worse that corn from a wet summer: big and bland. Moderate dryness helps to better concentrate the flavors in smaller, toothier kernels.

      1. I agree that it is unecessary and even counter-productive to husk the corn, and I never husk mine before cooking (besides, what if I decide to grill it at the last minute?), but I disagree that it is bad etiquette, since the large grocery stores definitely encourage it, by putting a bin next to the corn for the husks. By doing so, they have made it acceptable behavior!

        Every large grocery chain in my area does it, and as long as they do, folks are going to think that husking in the store is the proper procedure. Indeed, I've noticed that some folks don't even look at the corn after they husk it, so there may even be those that assume that the bin is just an extra service of the store as a way for them to avoid taking home extra 'garbage' or whatever....

        The stores could take the opportunity to educate folks by taking away the bin and putting up a big sign, "How to judge our corn...." with explanation, but they probably wouldn't. Perhaps they figure it wouldn't do any good, and perhaps the bin is there because they got tired of corn husks everywhere...

        2 Replies
        1. re: susancinsf

          Supermarkets do this because (1) their corn is generally terrible anyway (either stale or of the superdupersweet variety that corn lovers tend to avoid), (2) their customers don't realize this, and (3) their customers appreciate the opportunity to keep the mess at the store. In that situation, no, it's not an etiquette violation SO LONG as you take each ear you husk and don't throw it back on the pile.

          But at a farmstand* or farmer's market, the only thing you should be discarding are broken-off stems from ears and some connected husk.

          * Exception for corn country where the corn is so fresh and the time to cooking is so immediate that the farmer's don't mind if you do it or even do it for you. For me, I like to cook the corn in the husk for more flavor.

          1. My local Cosentino's & Lunardi's markets have big signs that say "NO HUSKING ALLOWED". There always seems to be an employee in the produce department, so I bet you'd be politely told not to, if you tried =) I never noticed a bin (for husking) at Safeway or Albertsons, but maybe I haven't looked closely enough.

            1. Either I'm not clear on your description, or shoppers in your area are unclear on the process of selecting corn. In Maine and Maryland, where I have bought the best ear corn, we peel back just enough of the husk (an inch or so) to see if there is smut, caterpillars, or badly deformed kernels. Good ears are smut- and bug-free, and the kernels should be relatively consistent in size all the way to the tip of the ear. The first inch or so should answer.

              If you are not worried about smut or bugs, just gently press the tip of the corn to see if the kernels are plump. Sometimes, if the smut is bad enough, you will see it in the silk and feel a sponginess in the husk.

              Peeling the shucks this way still leaves the ear covered and preserved until you get home to cook it later that evening.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Loren3

                We did that in NJ too, when I was growing up. Just peel back a little bit to look at the tip.

                1. re: Loren3

                  That's how I check too--and those are my top places for corn, with Massachusetts right in there too. I rarely buy corn from the grocery store, and at the farm stands it's (usually) very fresh.

                2. You are right , it is ritual for some people, to pull back half the husk to inspect each ear, discarding half a dozen for no apparent reason. I think this is to show that they are discerning! These are the same people who buy lettuce in a bag and plastic wrapped brocolli, but when it comes to sweet corn, iconic food of summer, they become experts!
                  When I buy any produce , I inspect it rigorously...I am a fanatic. Really, I am a freak. Smell, color,density are all taken into account, and I choose sweet corn with the same care. That does NOT require exposing half the kernels!!!
                  How to pick sweet corn: I go for green fresh husks on the outside, no yellowing or drying at all. Silk should be mostly green, just some darkening. You can see from the cut end of the stalk if it is fresh cut or if very dry, that's bad. Then, the weight should be heavy and the husks compact to the ear, this is all by feel. I will not bother with an ear if it has failed any of these requirements.
                  When I have selected my ears by all these signs, I will turn just a inch of the husk and peak at the kernels. If they are very very tiny, or very very oversize, I might put back the ear. This doesnt happen too often, because I have already determined from all the earlier steps, that the corn will be good. If I put it back, it is corn that is either too early or past it's prime, and I don't feel I should have to buy the farmers mistakes. And who knows, someone might come at the end of the day, and buy what ever ears are left, cause they really want some corn...I have been that person!!! (I have no qualms about buying an ear with a peek of the kernels exposed by someone else....)
                  As for the idea of husking your ears at the market..well, it never occured to me. I think nature created PERFECT packaging design when it came to an ear of sweet corn, and pulling off the husks and putting corn in a plastic bag to take home would make me feel guilty of wasteful excess use of plastic.

                  2 Replies
                    1. re: Karl S

                      I should add that I do not even pull back "a little bit". I want that thing tight as a bug; sealed up from direct exposure to the air. I don't look at corn that's been tampered with that way (though I notice that often the corn looks perfectly fine...). You can get much more info from other indicia. Has only rarely been a problem for me in terms of bugs or smut: maybe one ear each or every other summer.

                  1. I don't shuck my corn, but I do pull back the husk a little to make sure the ear is good. I think some people don't like the mess the shucking will make in their kitchen, so they prefer to do it in the store -- our local stores all keep a trash can with the corn cobs for this purpose.

                    1 Reply
                    1. Fascinating - it has NEVER occurred to me to husk corn at the store - for one thing, I'm usually trying to get in and out, and hanging around to husk corn just strikes me as odd. I guess I usually just buy an extra ear or two in case one is bad.

                      1. We all have our procedure for buying fresh items in the store from meats to produce. The posts below break into husking vs no husking (all the way and take home naked ears) and sneak a peak. A couple have the smell, squeeze, look adder. Whatever gets the best tasting corn to the table works for me. I am a pull back a couple of inches to see if the corn looks ready. It almost talks to you if it is and screams at you if it isn't and back with its friends it goes. Then the husks stay on until right before roasting, steaming boiling of BBQ'ing.

                        For those who do not look but just grab I am curious if you do the same with tomatoes, potatoes and peppers. Do you not examine them and only take the best that is left. I move the really bad ones aside and the produce manager (whose become a pretty good friend over the years) thanks me because he saves time having one of his helpers look to see which may have gone bad over the last 24 hours.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: jfood

                          The thing about opening the husk is that leads to deterioration of the ear. Merely looking at a tomato doesn't (squeezing it can, so I don't do that). Worse still, people often toss back perfectly good ears that are now starting to stale faster because someone opened up the husk. That's why it's rude (with the exceptions previously noted).

                          1. re: jfood

                            I don't peel back any part of the husk but I don't jsut grab and go and I don't beleive anyone has said that they do. Most have posted as I did orginally that we judge the corn by the weight, feel and appearance.

                            I do the same with all my produce- weight, feel and appearance. Tomato's should have little green, smooth skins and a heavy hand feel. Avocados should be dark green, no bruising and and be lightly firm to the touch (unless making guacamole that night then I like them softer) All melons and pineapple should have no soft spots, should smell fresh and feel heavy for their size. Lettuce should have firm leaves w/ no browning. There is not a single piece of fruit or veggie that I would cut, break or bend open to see if it meets my satisfaction. Why do it with corn???

                            Also, as the OP, my concern was more with the open (even peak) at the corn and then toss it aside. If you are *truly* husking for convenience and taking all home that doesn't bother as me much. If it is a place that uncourages husking by having trash cans why do teh peeker/partial huskers just not throw it away? Does anyone buy? Husker/peeker do *you* ever buy corn that has been husked or peeked by another consumer and tossed aside?

                          2. Even though many markets by me have bins to remove the husks, I wouldn't dream of doing this. However, I do "sneak a peak", pulling back the first 1/2" or so. I think you can judge the ear pretty good just by seeing those first few rows, to see if the kernals look fresh and plump. If not, I toss back and you can barely even tell the husk was tampered with.

                            Personally, I've been disappointed more than not by corn in larger markets and as much as I won't strip the ear, I wouldn't buy it blind either especially with all the drought problems that have been around. Mold, bugs, cobs not completely formed, etc.


                            1. This must be a regional thing. In the Midwest, where I grew up, and Tennessee, where I lived for too many years, you MIGHT peek at what you could expose of the topmost part of an ear, but you always shucked it at home. Here in the LA area, every store that sells corn has a shucking bin, and I have yet to see anyone put unshucked corn into his or her plastic produce bag. I will admit to having adopted this no doubt lamentable practice myself, as having to spread out newspaper and deal with the shucks, silk and occasional worms were burdens of my childhood, and it's just EASIER to leave that crap in the store. And with the almost revoltingly sweet corn they're selling these days, some reversion to starch might actually be welcome...

                              1. c
                                Caitlin McGrath

                                I never open the husks when choosing corn. In addition to using the criteria laid out by ciaolette (fresh, green husks and silks, good weight, etc.), I simply run my fingers over the kernels through the husk. I can tell if they're plump, if they're uniform, if they're dried out, if they peter out at the end of the cob, and so on.

                                1. Again with the corn . If you buy your corn from a Mega-Mart or Food World or TJ McFoods or whatever chain supermarket sits smugly at your local strip mall off I-90whatever , you can go ahead and shuck to your hearts content . Clearly , you know little or nothing about proper fresh corn , and you shall get what you deserve . Mainly , crappy corn . So go ahead , fill the trash can . The enlightened few of us left in the midwest will wait , patiently , for another month or so , and then actually DRIVE to the FARM where real corn comes from and , if necessary , wait for the tractor to come back from the field with our still warm from the sun freshly picked ears of proper sweet corn . And we shall not , under any circumstances , peel back the husk too far . A discreet peek ( I agree with the previous 1/2" suggestion ) is OK if you are gonna buy a lot . Otherwise , farmer Jeb just spent the last four months nurturing and watering and tending that ear you are considering defiling rudely . Just ask him if it's good . Generally , farmers of all types love to discuss the fruits of their labor and will gladly point the interested buyer to what's the best stuff ( other than what's in his kitchen , but that's his right . ) A properly prepared simple ear of great fresh corn is so underappereciated anymore , it's a shame . With a little good Land o Lakes butter whipped with table salt and a grind or two of fresh pepper , man , top five foods , easy . Top three , maybe . All you cornheads rejoice . the high season is almost upon us , eat well...

                                  1. I'm a peeker, first feeling for fully developed ears, then peeking the first 1/2" or so to see if the stage is right. If the kernals are big and fat all the way to the tip and the kernals are fully opaque, I bend the husk back amd move on. That is is very likely over-mature and starchy.

                                    If the first few rows of kernals are tiny and pearlescent, and show the tiny silk attatchment dimple, that's the ear for me. I know it will be tender and sweet. They go into my basket unshucked.

                                    About ten years ago when the trash cans started showing up at the supermarkets, I asked the produce mgr what was up, and he said if he didn't provide the can, people were just tossing the husks on the floor! Can you believe it? This just started happening about 10 years ago, never had seen it anywhere before that. I saw a woman furiously going about her in-store shucking and watched her plow through a dozen ears, husks flying, my mouth open in disbelief. Guess she was just wanting to cut down on her solid waste bill?

                                    1. Shop Rite allows you to remove the husks in the store. They provide a garbage pail.