Monday, September 14, 2009

The Best Canned Corn You Will Ever Eat

As a a resident of the state of Ohio, this is a time of year to which I always look forward. From the middle of August until the middle of September, many crops are local and in-season, but only one causes Pavlov-induced salivation just by the mere mention of it, Ohio sweet corn. There are many ways to prepare it and if done correctly, most of them produce a delicious ear of corn. However, I have been fortunate for the last decade and a half to have the pleasure of eating corn that is prepared in such a way that it magnifies the very essence of the corn itself.

Very good friends of mine (I'd really rather consider them to be extended family) have owned a little lakeside cottage at Berlin Lake in Deerfield, Ohio, for the last fifteen years. One of the owners of the cottage is a good friend, Lynn. What started as a tradition with his father many years before, his son Lynn decided to continue on with once the family had adopted their new vacation home. I have happily spent many summer weekends out at "The Lake" and have learned to love the allure of the relaxed atmosphere, spending time with good food and friends, and the almost always gentle zephyr that skips off the water and up the small incline between the dock and the deck overlooking the water.

When the evening comes and the boats and jet skis return to their ports of call, the lake takes on a calm stillness that is only enhanced when a full moon begins to rise in the distance, casting it's milky shadow on the undulating water:

By adding twelve hours or so to the above photo, you get this one instead:

What makes Lynn's corn so special can really be summed up in two concepts. First, he only does this when corn is in season and can be found locally. His corn of choice actually comes from a farm just down the street from The Lake at Stahl's Farm Market. While this is the main market right off of I-76 and Rt. 14, there is another smaller stand closer to the actual farm. Second, the cooking method Lynn uses ensures that the corn is cooked to absolute perfection. He actually pressure steams the corn right in the husks.

Apparently this method of cooking has become popular enough that one company, CanCooker, has produced a version that is pretty darn expensive. While I cannot comment on how well it does or does not work since I've never had the pleasure of using their product, at $110 a pop plus shipping, I'm not sure I want to find out. Instead, Lynn opts for a simpler five gallon metal open top bucket with a lid he can seal on top; something similar to the one found here. The metal buckets serve only one purpose, to cook the corn, so there is never any worries about food safety.

The first thing Lynn did was to build a raging fire in the pit behind the cottage:

He then placed eighteen ears of corn in each bucket, with the silk end facing skywards:

Using a garden hose, he first filled each bucket up to wet the corn and then emptied both buckets so that they each were only about 1/3 full (leaving the corn in the buckets while emptying):

Next, he placed the metal lid on top of each bucket and used a pair of pliers to crimp the lid on. Note that prior to using the lid for the first time, Lynn punctured a single hole in the lid using a screwdriver and hammer. He did this to allow the steam a place to vent:

After sealing both buckets up nice and tight, he placed two steel rails over the fire pit:

He then threw in a few more pieces of wood to make sure the fire was going to be even for both buckets:

Finally, the buckets are placed on the rails:

It took about thirty minutes before you could start to see the steam rising out of the holes in the lids, but once it got going, you could smell the sweet corn fragrance if you were anywhere near the fire. Once the buckets went on the fire, it took exactly ninety minutes until the corn was done. Wait, wait! I can hear your inner monologue right now, gentle reader. I really did say ninety minutes. That seems like an excruciatingly long time to cook an ear of corn, but I have eaten so many wonderful ears of corn done this way that I no longer question the methodology. It just works.

Towards the end of the cooking time, both buckets were steaming like mad. By filling the buckets 1/3 full of water initially, combined with the long cooking time, there was just enough water left at the end so that the buckets didn't run out before the corn was fully cooked.

Once the corn was fully cooked, Lynn used a flathead screwdriver to pry open the lid:

Using a carefully gloved hand (no need to get a steam burn at this point), he pulled out all of the ears and laid them on one of the stones of the fire pit for an eager and hungry group of family and friends:

Before you can eat the corn, obviously they needed to be husked. To peel, you hold your ear of corn with the silk end facing downwards. Each successive layer of husk is then peeled upwards:

When you have finally peeled back all the layers of the husk, Lynn simply removed all of the silk threads and threw them back into the fire. What you are left with was the perfectly cooked ear of sweet corn:

Not only did the husk protect the corn during the steaming process, but now it served as a handle with which to grab onto while you ate it. There were several condiments available for those who wished to partake. First, there was melted butter:

Additionally, salt, pepper, and Tapatio hot sauce was also available:

Today I had the pleasure of eating three ears of corn. The first one I ate simply as it came. It is hard to describe the experience of biting into something that is so crispy and juicy at the same time. By the end of our corn feast, my shirt was covered with splattered corn juices. The flavor was the very essence of corn. At the same time, it was a shining example of sweet corn. By the time I finished my third ear, my fingers and mouth were sticky from all of the sugar. With my second ear, I decided to try a more traditional approach and go for a coating of butter and salt. I've learned over the years that if you want to apply salt to your ear, you must first coat it with something that allows the salt to stick. Butter did the trick nicely for me. My final ear was coated with just a few drops of the hot sauce. All three were excellent, but I think that I have become a purist over the years and really prefer mine simply as it comes.

Once people got into their corn-eating groove, each found a spot to stake out and munch away. Here were three generations of corn eaters, Auntie, Niece, and Daughter:

Once all of the guests went through all of the corn, we piled them up next to the fire pit:

Lest you, gentle reader, think we were about to add these to a public landfill and waste valuable space, the field across the street from the lakeside cottage offered a far more "green" solution to the problem:

I had to wonder if the cows could smell the corn cooking away because they both seemed to know exactly when to approach the fence. There was something oddly satisfying knowing that there was absolutely no waste in this process. Local corn, bought at the peak of the season, cooked simply, leftover cobs fed to local cows pasturing on the field across the street, in the end to be returned back to earth in the form of fertilizer. The earth fed us and we returned the favor. This is how we should always eat.

While I always look forward to spending time out at The Lake, this particular time of year is really my favorite. If you can manage to scrape together the meager equipment required to pressure steam your own ears of local Ohio sweet corn, I highly recommend you give this technique a try. You won't be sorry that you did.


Anonymous said...

Hi Tom. I really enjoyed reading about your cornfest and look forward to reading more. Lovely story and loved the pics as well. I can see that you are doing well and happy to see you pursuing the best food that Northeast Ohio has to offer! Best, Carla

bonnjill said...

Sounds like an interesting method. I'll have to try it some time. I had the best ear of corn last weekend at Taste of Hudson. Vue served it with sour cream, cayenne pepper, Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of fresh lime. It was amazing. I'm usually a purist too, but love herb butter on corn.

pchak said...

I've got to try this...

Daniel said...

Agreed--as a long time fan of upstate New York corn boiled for a scant 10 minutes, this method intrigues me AND shows me that I have much to learn about how to truly enjoy corn. Thanks for sharing.

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