A project of Straus Communications, this column originally appeared in the Oakland Tribune on July 10, 2002.



Cooking Fresh
Don't delay for sweetest corn
By Laurel Miller - CONTRIBUTOR

I need to confess to a crime against corn: I've had an ear sitting in my refrigerator for five days now. When I bought it at the farmers' market, it was freshly picked, it's creamy white kernels bursting with sugar. I couldn't wait to eat it. But then I got distracted and busy, and so it sits, enduring purgatory in my Kenmore Frostless.

I think it's just these kinds of situations that inspired the ``improved'' and ``supersweet'' corn hybrids.

"The whole thing with hybrid sweet corn is that it's got a gene that holds the sugars in the cells,'' says Paul Underhill of Terra Firma Farm. ``It gives you another 24 hours to keep that product and still have it taste sweet.''

That's why Underhill grows hybrids for his CSA (community supported agriculture - a program in which organic produce is delivered to customers).

``It's picked one day and delivered the next, so our concern is that the corn still tastes good when customers receive it,'' he says.

The plant sugars in sweet corn begin converting to starch as soon as it's harvested. You may have heard the old saying that corn shouldn't be picked until the cooking water is boiling on the stove.

Storing corn in the refrigerator does slow down the conversion of sugar to starch. But if you have to store it, it is imperative to leave the husk on to keep the kernels from dehydrating.

Pests such as ear worms and corn borers pose the biggest problem for organic farmers. Ear worms are found in the tips of corn, while borers chew their way into the side of the husk. If you've purchased corn with ear worms, you can just cut away the affected portion.

To combat the worms, some organic farmers rely on Bt, a naturally occurring bacterium that acts as a pesticide. But, as Underhill points out, ``organic insecticides don't work on insect eggs, so worms will continue to hatch even after applying Bt.''

Currently, a high percentage of U.S. corn has been bioengineered to contain Bt, meaning the corn has been genetically modified to contain Bt DNA in every cell of the plant. But there are problems with this type of technology.

``The thing is, Bt is in all the plant cells, and when you plow the corn under after harvest, it enters the soil, (encouraging) Bt-resistant strains of bacteria,'' says Underhill. ``Same problem when you rotate crops and plant vegetables like tomatoes or broccoli in a former corn field. They attract the same pests as corn, and because of the Bt in the soil and in pollen drift, you get pest resistance.''

While the jury is still out on the long-term effects of bioengineered foods, Bt crops provide an example of why we should demand further study and stricter regulations of genetically modified, or GMO, foods.

When it comes to selecting corn, ``look at the husk,'' says Underhill. ``If there's no husk (some stores remove it, inexplicably, for display reasons), it's a warning sign. That's what keeps the ears hydrated and fresh. It should be a nice green color, and the silk should be brown.''

I love eating raw corn when it's really fresh. Toss raw kernels into salads or add them to stir-fries and pasta dishes at the last minute, just long enough to heat them through.

Gayle Pirie, executive chef and co-owner of San Francisco's Foreign Cinema, also loves raw corn. She also loves to blanch it for one to two minutes and top it with a dollop of thyme-butter. ``There's nothing like fresh corn with that herbal infusion,'' she says.

Pirie also likes to make corn stock to use as a base for other dishes. ``We'll just simmer some cobs in filtered water and use the resulting stock for corn and mussel chowder, or in risotto,'' she says. ``It's very versatile and gives an added dimension to any soup.''

Come to think of it, I bet that's one way to give new life to forgotten cobs left too long in the fridge.

You can purchase corn from the following farms: Terra Firma Farm at the Berkeley and Marin farmers' markets; Full Belly Farm at the Berkeley and Palo Alto farmers' markets; Happy Boy Farms at the Berkeley farmers' market; Phillip's Farms at the Berkeley, San Rafael and Walnut Creek farmers' markets; Firme Farm at the Berkeley farmers' market; and Riverdog Farm at the Berkeley farmers' market.

GRILLED DAY BOAT SCALLOPS

Recipe by Michael Quigley, chef/owner of Cafe Lolo in Santa Rosa, published in ``Cooking Fresh From the Bay Area'' (Eating Fresh Guides, $17.95).

3/4 cup pearl onions, peeled

1 teaspoon olive oil

3/4 cup fresh peas, shelled and blanched in boiling

salted water

3/4 cup fresh corn kernels, blanched in boiling salted water

3/4 cup diced fennel

3/4 cup chopped Applewood smoked bacon, cooked

Salt and pepper, to taste

Creamy Tarragon Dressing (recipe follows)

18 fresh sea scallops

6 sprigs Italian parsley

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss the peeled onions in olive oil. Place in a small pan and roast in the oven for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a bowl, toss together peas, corn, pearl onions, fennel and bacon. Add salt, pepper and 3/4 cup Creamy Tarragon Dressing and let stand. Prepare a grill, or heat a grill pan on the stove. Season scallops with salt and pepper. Grill scallops on a hot grill until cooked through, about 2 minutes on each side. Remove from heat.

Place a neat pile of the vegetable mixture in the center of the plate. Divide the scallops evenly among the plates, placing them around the vegetable mixture. Drizzle a small amount of the Creamy Tarragon Dressing over the scallops, garnish with Italian parsley and serve. Serves 6 as an appetizer.

Per Serving: 332 Calories; 25g Fat; 14g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 117mg Cholesterol; 463mg Sodium.

CREAMY TARRAGON DRESSING

3 egg yolks

Juice of 1 lemon

1 clove garlic, chopped

2 bunches tarragon, chopped

1 cup olive oil

1/2 cup buttermilk

Salt and pepper to taste.

Place the egg yolks, lemon juice, garlic and tarragon in the bowl of a food processor and process for 30 seconds. Then, with the machine running, slowly add the oil, buttermilk, and salt and pepper. If the dressing is too thick, add a little more buttermilk.

E-mail Laurel Miller at kaukaukids@hotmail.com.
This column is a service of the Berkeley Farmers' Market and Eating Fresh Publications (www.eatingfresh.com) publishers of "Cooking Fresh from the Bay Area."
The Berkeley Farmers' Market is open 2-7 p.m. Tuesdays at Derby Street and MLK Jr. Way, and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays at Center Street and MLK Jr. Way.
Call (510) 548-3333 or visit www.ecologycenter.org




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Last modified: March 26, 2002