I think my first marriage was doomed the day he watched me, Mum and Grandma all eating sweetcorn. If Great Grandma and Great Great Aunt Nin had been with us there'd have been five generations of women munching the cobs and slurping the juice, every one of us holding each cob firmly in both hands and not putting it down until every kernel was entirely consumed.
Then we each reached for another cob from the pile.
Grandma had impeccable table manners. She cut her fruits tidily, on a plate. Cake forks and tea pot were regularly polished. Knife and fork always rested on the plate before she began to chew her small, neat mouthfuls. The embroidered linen cloth was laid out for luncheon, and removed for dinner.
Sweet corn was different.
Mum and I learned how to eat sweet corn from Grandma. Grandma had learned to eat sweet corn from her grandma, where it - or its progenitor, maize - was grown in giant paddocks to feed the property's race horses. Corn harvests were social affairs, great trestle tables laid out under the fruit trees with crocks of butter, and vast cauldrons of young corn boiled on fires, to be followed by apple pies almost as wide as the table. Knives and forks didn't feature.
This is still the best way to eat sweet corn. Lots, straight from the stalk, stripped from its husk and plunged into boiling water, or tossed into the horse trough, husk and all, then roasted in its papery covering on the coals as the tassels singe off and the kernels grow smoky. Pile it high on a platter on the table and spend the next two hours eating, and don't waste a kernel, because the corn will never be as good again until next harvest.
Old-fashioned sweet corn varieties began to lose their sweetness about 10 minutes after picking. Modern hybrids stay sweet, but have lost their rich corn flavour in the quest for the eternal saccharine.
Our first lot of corn is almost ready, the cobs fattening and the tassels green. It will be picked when the tassels begin to dry off, or I think the cobs are fat enough by peeling a bit of the husk down, or one of the kernels has milky sap when pressed with a fingernail. The next lot are about knee high, and it's time to plant the third, and last, of our corn successions.
Our first corn was the heritage 'Bicolour', with large cobs with yellow and white kernels. The second was 'Jolly Roger', another heritage, low-starch corn. The third will be a hybrid, 'Max', because it matures more reliably in the cooler weather we are likely to get in April and May, when this lot should be ready. Or not. We may yet get a heatwave and we'll be munching Max in late March.
Corn varieties need to be staggered, as they cross pollinate easily in the lightest breeze, which may mean that a supersweet variety is starchy and the heritage variety you were saving for seed has been hybridised, and will give who knows what when you plant it next year.
The one sure thing about corn is that is needs to be fed. Lots. Especially in our climate. It also needs regular watering. Yes, I know corn can be a reliable desert crop, sown deep in the sand, but deserts get a heck of a lot more sunlight, and more reliably too, than we've been getting this summer, and I've known frosts in December, and in January too - though not in the same summer thank goodness. Cosset your corn to be sure of a crop.
This also means you can plant it closely, in a clump, to ensure pollination even with frequent rain showers. Sow seeds about 2cm deep, 20cm apart, and mulch them with 30cm of compost when knee high, assuming you are at least 167cm tall. Feed and least weekly, and water it in.
It's no tragedy if your late-planted corn doesn't mature. You have grown 'baby corn' instead. Eat it whole, with lashings of butter or olive oil and black pepper, or stir fried, especially with green veg, a touch of chilli, a lot of garlic and oyster sauce.
But never forget the most important part of the corn harvest. Eat lots, with gusto, and never leave a kernel of fresh corn unsucked.
PS: Corn wrapped in plastic tastes of plastic. Unless you have grown up with the taste of plastic and enjoy it, never buy bare cobs of corn in plastic. If you come across that abomination, corn still in its husk on a Styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic, when corn has a perfectly good natural packing of its own, do a loud stamping Corn Warrior dance in the fruit and veg section. As far as I know, the Corn Warrior Dance has not yet been invented, but if the next generation are to taste the wonder of true sweet corn, it's time it was.
This week I am:
- Watching the first Naked Ladies unfurl from the clumps all around the garden, and enjoying being able to say ''The naked ladies are out!'' even more.
- Grinning maliciously at the zucchini, which are beginning to get downy mildewed leaves. This is the time to plant another succession, as young plants are more mildew resistant, but I am sick of zucchini, as is everyone I have tried to give them to, including the chooks.
- Hoping the melon vines enjoy the first real heat of summer and get moving.
- Picking blood plums from a tree that was old when I first met it, more than four decades ago, and that has had no feeding or pruning - except from the possums.
- Planting the two pots of horseradish that have been waiting to be put in the ground for three months.
- Making lemon cordial.
Summer's Best Ever Lemon Cordial
1 cup lemon or lime juice
6 cups white sugar
2 tb citric acid
1 tb tartaric acid
8 cups water
Bring to the boil, stirring till the sugar dissolves. Bottle while very hot. Seal. Keep in a cool place for up to a month, or longer in the fridge. To serve: add water, or soda water, or a sprig of mint, a slice of orange, many ice blocks, and water or soda water.
This is wicked. It's based on a Mexican recipe - Mexican purists please do not yell at me.
12 cobs fresh corn, in their husks
1 cup light sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup chopped coriander leaves plus extra to scatter on top
1.2 tb grated lime zest
1 tb sweet chilli sauce
2 cloves crushed garlic
Optional: 1 tsp ground chipotle chilli, crumbled fetta
Grill the corn in its husk on one side for five minutes; turn and grill on the other for five minutes. Using oven mitts or a tea towel strip off the hot husks and grill on each side till slightly blackened.
Top with sauce, then scatter a little lime zest and extra coriander on top. You can also scatter on crumbled feta, but I think it is more luscious without.
You need to use your hands to eat this. And you will dribble. And then want more.