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Corn on the Cob Question

  • c

My family and I just got back from a vacation in MN and SD and I have a question about corn on the cob. What is COTC or "Fresh Corn" (as it was advertised out there) supposed to taste like to an Upper Midwesterner (vs. a New Englander like myself)?
I ask because the corn I had (and, now that I think about it, the COTC I have had in MN on previous visits) has always been big (large kernels), chewy, very yellow, and not sweet--in short, corn that I would normally classify as old and inedible. (This included the ear from the Corn Palce itself!) In contrast , the COTC I am used to is small kernel, white or whitish yellow, sweet, and tender-crispy.
Is this a real regional difference in what corn is supposed to be? ( I could imagine a sort of purity in having COTC that is more grain-like, vs. vegeatable-like.) Or am I just a lousy corn magnet when I visit MN?

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  1. I have never had, what I would consider to be, good COTC outside of New England..... the best coming from the Simsbury Ct. area.

    1. yeeks. what you got sounds like what my grandfather called cow corn - what he would feed to the cows.
      I'm from upstate NY originally. the COTC I've always had for eating is like you say, smaller kernel, white, yellow or mix, sweet. Never been to the midwest so can't say what their corn is usually like. :)

      3 Replies
      1. re: jujuthomas

        Our cottage is on the Quebec-Vermont border, and I've never had corn as wonderful as the stuff I get from roadside stands in Quebec. Picked that day, rushed home to an already boiling pot, just a hint of butter, and man - that's good! Here in Toronto, there used to be two local farms that grew their own corn, but they both sold out to developers (don't blame them, they probably made millions). It's hard to find fresh corn here these days.

        1. re: FrankD

          Frank. You just have to drive a little further. The Holland Landing area has lots of fruit/veggie stands.


          1. re: Davwud

            90 minute round trip from Richmond Hill. There is a place at 19th and Warden, and sometimes Southbrook has a pickup truck on Major Mac near Dufferin, but both are hit and miss.

      2. I can say that being from Chicago, and also having an S/O from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, that your latter description of COTC sounds about correct to me as far as what would be considered good. The S/O's family who reside in the U.P. all know what good cotc is and appreciate it. From my standpoint, you've simply had bad corn. It's not ALWAYS good. maybe the entire state of MN likes this fieldy corn more, or maybe the area where you vacation likes that corn more, I really don't know. I would assume, however, that you've gotten bad corn. Kinda sucks, too - we had locally produced Illinois cotc last night, and it was borderline too sweet to eat. No butter, no salt, no pepper. It was like dessert sweet.

        2 Replies
        1. re: gordeaux

          uh, no. . . we have extremely good fresh sweet corn, in season, in mn. rushed to market the same day morning as picked. so sweet, juicy and fresh you can eat it raw off the cob. i don't know where the op got her/his corn, but it doesn't sound like it was up to snuff at all. i don't buy the "regional difference" theory. i know that you don't pick corn and leave it lying around for a week and a half, though. . . there's a crapload of corn grown in mn and you can taste the difference in the soil and elevation from the corn from different farms in the summer.

          1. re: soupkitten

            I was going to say, we have family in Iowa and I've never had corn in season there that was less than stellar. This is very odd indeed.

        2. I have had excellent corn on the cob in Iowa, as well as Northern Wisconsin just this summer. Some of it has been a mix of yellow and white kernels, some mostly white. Sounds to me that you somehow got lousy corn.

          Edit - I'm wondering now if the corn I've bought is sold as "sweet corn", though it seems odd to me that a retail food outlet or farmer's market would sell corn not meant to be eaten (and enjoyed) by humans.

          1. I grew up on a farm in eastern North Carolina, and we never ate the yellow corn that made up the bulk of the crop. That was destined for the grain mill, where it would be turned into animal feed, or ground into cornmeal/grits/etc. My grandfather would always plant a few rows of Silver Queen(which was white or very pale yellow in color), and that's what we would eat ourselves.

            1. Olathe corn from Colorado...yum.
              My huitlacoche expert near Orlando said that some types of sweet hybrid corn seed were scarce this year, because of the ultra-stupid federally subsidized ethanol program.

              1. With out a doubt, you had cow-corn.

                Living in the NW (but raised in Iowa), I rarely eat COTC simply because it can't match what I grew up with -- it has to come out of your garden or from the back of a pickup truck.

                I can only guess that the Corn Palace (RIP) was trying to be authentic to their SD roots.

                1. The corn grown today for retail markets is all Hybrid sweet or super sweets varieties. The corn has small, crispy, crunchy, sweet kernels that are yellow, white or bi-color. Growers, shippers, and retailers love it for its ability to withstand long shipping times/distances to markets, and the long retail shelf life once it reaches its destination. Consumers love it because it tastes good! To many it's all they have ever known... All they have ever seen..All they have ever eaten. ...To them it's... Corn pure and simple.
                  This has not always been the case...Time was when most (not all) of the corn consumed was common "Dent" corn aka Field corn..Mule Corn or Cow corn if you prefer. It was grown, and consumed locally, as it did/does not ship well, and it's shelf life after harvesting was/is very short. The window of opportunity to harvest and eat/process this corn was/is a matter of days...sometimes two or three before it was to mature i.e. tough, chewy, and starchy. Some of these old dent corn varieties are still with us, but none grown commercially that I know of....I have grown some of these...Trucker's favorite, Pencil Cob, Shoe Peg, and others for years....Harvested at it's peak it is delicious!!...Not sweet, but crunchy, full of milk, and bursting with real corn flavor...When the corn was “ready” it was all hands on deck...You had/have two or three days tops to pull and process your needs for the freezer...Less if it had/has been a dry year. After that you could find a few roasting ears but mostly it was to mature and was allowed to dry/harden on the stalk, pulled, and dried for animal feed or shelled and taken to the grist mill for corn meal...I’ve tried the new, hybrid, genetically engineered dent corn varieties, and have been less than impressed...Great for corn oil, corn syrup, animal feed, ethanol, corn meal, corn flour, corn starch and a whole host of other uses/products, but not good to my taste buds....I think maybe you had some of this...plus it was past it’s prime/freshness.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: Uncle Bob

                    You are correct - that's what I grew up w/. It is also why so many of the fields have been used for Field corn and not the Hybrid and why the "People" corn is WAAAY more expensive then I've ever seen it.

                    And yes, Field corn, straight from the field is very good.

                    1. re: Uncle Bob

                      That is what I suspect--that what I've had is older vareities that really do need to be very fresh. It's odd that I never got it though, even at what was suposed to be a reasonablely good restaurant in Rapid City.

                      1. re: cgj

                        "That is what I suspect--that what I've had is older varieties"

                        Not necessarily....It just as easily may have been one of the new modern varieties of Dent corn that have been developed genetically for high yields (bushels per acre) and disease resistance/drought resistance traits etc. I would venture to say (guess) odds are very strong that this is what you purchased...Not one of the older varieties....As to your most recent experience it doesn’t really matter that much....Again it was a Dent (as opposed to a sweet) variety that was pulled past it’s prime, or either had been off the stalk too long. HTH

                        1. re: Uncle Bob

                          OK. What's surprising is that it was all from restaurants, or food vendors this time--including one othewise popular place in Rapid City (and theirs was the worst of the lot). Given the hybrids available out there, why would a vendor purchase a more fragile variety?
                          Meanwhile, there's only about 2 weeks left of COTC here in NE...sigh

                          1. re: cgj

                            I really don't like trashing whole regions but, well, South Dakota isn't the best place to be getting produce. My in-laws live in the Black Hills so I'm out there one to two weeks a year.

                            The produce at grocery stores can be pretty grim - they have a pretty low population base and I assume that the majority of their agriculture is focused towards wheat and/or other bulk grains due to their short, hot dry growing season.
                            My MIL keeps a garden but often has freezes well into June which really shortens the growing season for delicate items...perhaps it's better on the plains, I don't know.

                            If I were to pursue chow in SD, I'd focus more on Buffalo or game...not fruits and veggies.

                            1. re: sebetti

                              Yes, but it doesn't explain the lousy corn in southern MN! I mean, they grow it there....

                              1. re: cgj

                                well, what would explain it? *obviously* your conclusion that nobody knows how to grow corn in the corn belt must be true. . .

                    2. My grandparents had a forty-acre farm in southern Indiana. After my grandfather retired, they leased out their fields to a local farmer who grew field corn. At a certain point in the season (later in the parts of the field that were largely in the shade), we would put a pot of water to boil and go pick immature field corn and eat it off the cob--sometimes for breakfast. It was sweet but not one-dimensionally so and devoutly corny tasting. I live in New England now and gorge on local corn in season, but nothing has ever come close to that immature field corn.

                      2 Replies
                        1. re: Steamed Dumpling

                          Dallas in the early sixties: Fourteen. Friends and I would eat corn from the nearby field raw. It wasn't fancy corn. It was at its prime.
                          I don't think most people know there are different corns for different purposes. I also have a long scar on the base of my left thumb from the knife I was using to chop down corn as I helped my Grandfather harvest his crop. I was having fun in the hot sun and got a little carried away trying to keep up with the older men!

                        2. Something is wrong. Midwestern corn in August and early September is exquisite: small kernel, pale yellow or py/white, tender-crisp. I've eaten it for many years; I always look forward to it, cooked within hours of being picked.
                          And I've also had delicious Silver Queen corn in the south, though not much here at home.

                          1. Okay, the replies here seem to be coming from rather Provincial Northeasterners, or even Southeastern Canadians. Now, since none of you have apparently ever tasted great corn grown in other locations, let's try to clear a few things up:

                            1) Corn varieties are as numerous as apple varieties. White Corn (Silver Queen is the most common on the East Coast), bi-color corn and yellow all have multiple varieties. When I lived in New Jersey, I had access to a farm that used to grow the most amazing, sweet yellow corn. I didn't think it was possible to get fresher, sweeter corn (which, BTW, was rather large and tender both), until they decided to start growing a bi-color variety that was actually a tad better, so the same grower can certainly grow different varieties as long as the climate is cooperative.
                            2) As the season progresses, most markets buy corn from suppliers further and further south because the longer growing season allows more than one crop in warmer climates. They truck it north so that you New Englanders can still enjoy "farmstand" corn long after your growing season has ended, but while it is still pleasant enough to be spending your weekends in the country. I used to buy this too, once the season was over. It is still great corn, but it is imported from points further south.
                            3) I used to think Silver Queen was the best because that was all I knew. While I still love it, there are wonderful varieties like yellow Olathe from Kansas, or some of the other varieties grown in other parts of the country. Olathe was quite a surprise, as it rivals the old yellow my New Jersey farm friend used to grow, and then some. You can usually only find it in the Plains or here in Texas.
                            4) Drought, which is widespread in some parts of the country, results in dry, tough and stunted corn. It is usually not sweet.

                            I don't think there is a "MN" type -- you probably just got a bad crop. It could be from insufficient rain, or some other agri-problem, but that should not be the norm.

                            1. I have never had, what I would consider to be, good sweet corn, outside of the Silver Queen I grew in Texas..... except that in Tulsa, OK, Seattle, WA, Vancouver,BC, Valdosta, GA and the Stop and Shop in New Haven, CT.
                              It's everywhere I think, except for where it's grown for feed, alcohol or corn chips.
                              Don't feel bad. I thought I had good pizza in Texas, especially at Uno's. It's a regional thing. I didn't realize what (crap) I was eating till I had apizza in CT!