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Make some food memories with corn on the cob

Prairie Fare: Corn is used to make products like ethanol, plastics, matchsticks, glue and crayons... but it’s first and foremost food

I remember going out to our friend’s farm to help pick corn every summer when I was a child.

I had fun harvesting the plump ears of corn in the cool temperatures of an early summer morning. After some training, I learned how to hang on to the stalk and then twist the ear toward the ground to remove it without damaging the rest of the plant.

Sometimes we’d discover that raccoons had taken a few bites out of some cobs, leaving the partially eaten cobs between the rows. I was always on the lookout for these critters.

Then the time came for husking, or shucking, the bushel baskets full of corn in preparation for freezing enough corn to last through the winter. That was less fun. I remember my mother paying me 25 cents an hour as an enticement.

I thought I was rich with the $1.50 I earned after husking and washing corn most of the day.

We had corn on the cob for dinner as a reward for all the harvesting and husking. At the dinner table, I discovered that I could “cap” all my teeth with corn when no one was paying attention. Then I’d grin at my family with my new dental work.

They’d laugh and then tell me to “eat nicely.” I’d just cap my front teeth after that.

Corn, or maize, has been consumed for thousands of years. Food historians believe it was developed at least 7,000 years ago in Mexico. Later, it was cultivated widely by Indigenous tribes in North and South America and introduced to Europe by explorers, including Columbus.

Several categories of corn are grown today. Sweet corn is high in natural sugars and is the type enjoyed at the dinner table most commonly. Field corn, or dent corn, is the most widely grown corn in the U.S. It is used for livestock feed and also in some food products. It gets a dent in the kernels after drying.

Flint corn is the multicoloured, hard-kernelled corn often used for decorations in the fall. Popcorn is a type of flint corn but has a starchy centre and enough moisture to pop open when heated.

Almost every part of a corncob and cornstalk can be used. Along with fresh, frozen and canned forms, corn also is used to make cornstarch, cornmeal, grits and hominy.

However, most of today’s corn is used for purposes other than providing nutrition for people and animals. Corn is used to make ethanol gas, fuel pellets, plastics and matchsticks, and it’s in construction materials such as drywall, insulation and sandpaper. It also is used to make glue, crayons and many other products.

Back in 1996, the average sweet corn consumption was 29 pounds per person in the U.S., with similar numbers for Canada. Consumption declined to 21.3 pounds per person in 2014, with the majority (7.9 pounds) eaten fresh, followed by frozen (7.7 pounds) and canned (5.8 pounds), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

Corn provides vitamin C and B vitamins, along with minerals, including potassium and magnesium. On average, one-half cup of sweet corn has 75 calories, two grams (g) of protein, less than one g of fat and 16 g of carbohydrate.

If you think of carrots and healthy eyes, here’s some news. Corn is good for your eyes, too. Corn contains the eye-healthy natural carotenoid pigments lutein and zeaxanthin. These two natural pigments have been shown to help reduce our risk of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.

Don’t give up on carrots, though. Carrots provide beta carotene (another carotenoid pigment), which helps us see better in the dark.

If you pick or purchase more corn than you can refrigerate and eat within a few days, you can preserve it by freezing or canning it. Be sure to use research-tested advice for a high-quality end product.

To freeze corn off the cob, select ears with plump kernels. Husk ears, remove silk and wash. Blanch (heat in boiling water), cool and drain. For whole-kernel corn, cut corn off the cob at about two-thirds of the depth of the kernels.

To freeze corn on the cob, after husking, removing silk and washing, sort cobs by size. Blanch small ears (1-1/4 inches in diameter) for seven minutes, medium ears (1-1/4 to 1-1/2 inches in diameter) for nine minutes and large ears (more than 1-1/2 inches in diameter) for 11 minutes. After the heating process, cool in ice water, drain well, and package in freezer bags and freeze.

For more information about freezing vegetables, see North Dakota State University Extension’s publication Freezing Vegetables (FN187).

If you decide to can corn, remember, it is a low-acid vegetable and needs to be processed in a pressure canner to ensure that harmful micro-organisms are destroyed. See the NDSU Extension publication Home Canning Low-acid Vegetables (FN173) for information about canning corn and a range of other vegetables.

Visit the Field to Fork page on the NDSU website for more information about growing and using a variety of specialty crops, including corn.

This sweet corn recipe was the hit of the day when our summer program assistants tested recipes this summer.


Corn on the Cob with Bacon and Buffalo Sauce

  • 4 ears corn, shucked and cleaned
  • 1/4 c. (1/2 stick) butter, melted
  • 4 slices finely chopped cooked bacon, lower-sodium, fried crisp and drained
  • 2 tbsp. buffalo sauce, such as Frank’s Red Hot or your favourite hot sauce

This recipe pairs corn on the cob with bacon and hot sauce.
photo: NDSU

About the author

Columnist

Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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