Monday, September 10, 2012

Sunday Drives and Sweet Corn.

Friday, I took a drive. A two hour drive.

Instead of writing or working in the garden, I wound my way through the countryside, checking out cows and goats, searching for acreage with “For Sale” signs for the theoretical flower farm I'll own one day. For two hours, I hunted horses and houses with wrap-around porches. I crept along like a Sunday driver, glancing at directions on both on my iPhone and my backup GoogleMaps printout, because my phone tends to lose navigation at the most inconvenient times. When I looked up, two cars and a truck tailed my Prius, anxious for me to pick up the pace.

I officially became a Sunday driver. On Friday.

When I was young—Kristen's age, maybe younger—my parents believed in Sunday drives.

Mom and Dad in the front seat, me in the back. By the time I was 10, my sister Becky was off to college, my oldest siblings already graduated and working. I sprawled out in the backseat, seatbeltless, holding my nose against the smell of cigarettes, using my book to fan away the smoke, while my dad drove through the country.

I never understood Sunday drives.

Or sweet corn. 

Sometimes, our Sunday drive had a purpose. Sometimes, we'd drive to a farm stand. I would fling open the car door, eager to escape to fresh air. Mom would select a few tomatoes, while Dad chatted up the person manning the stand. How was the corn? Bi-colored? Fresh picked? How long ago? What time did it come from the field?

Once the preliminary screening satisfied him, Dad then investigated the corn. He pulled back a bit of husk to expose a few kernels and popped a kernel with his thumbnail. If the juice shot a foot in the air—now, THAT was fresh corn! He repeated the process for each ear, carefully choosing only those ears that shot juice a mile high. He'd buy a dozen ears, along with the few tomatoes, and off we'd go.

Of course, my pre-teen self slunk away from my parents, mortified that my dad would man-handle the farmer's corn. Couldn't he just pick 12 ears and be done? Couldn't we skip the Sunday drive and pick up some corn at Burger's Supermarket, like normal people? I stuck my nose in my book and pretended I didn't know him. The whole farm stand spectacle lasted no more than ten minutes. Then we'd head home to shuck corn.

My dad grew up on a farm, and he knew the difference between fresh sweet corn—and grocery-store corn. While he often told us stories of farm life, he more often shared stories relating how glad he was to escape the farm, attend college, and build a career in corporate America.

There is, after all, no glamour being the guy in charge of the manure spreader.

No matter how high he climbed the corporate ladder—and he climbed to General Manager of an international petrochemical company--he still possessed a farm boy's heart. His need for a country drive and fresh sweet corn remained with him for life.

Once, after our parents moved to South Carolina where—oddly--my siblings and I all lived, Dad called my sisters and me, telling us he had a pile of sweet corn. All he needed was an assembly line to help him get it ready to freeze. We showed up at my parents' house, rolling our eyes behind Dad's back like our former teenage selves, disbelieving that we planned to spend a Saturday shucking, blanching, cutting, and freezing corn.

But guess who ate delicious sweet corn at Thanksgiving?

Dad continued the country drives, past the time when he should have relinquished his driver's license. When Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, Dad took her on long drives in the country—sometimes to find sweet corn, more often to give her a change of scenery when she became agitated.

Which was often.

We worried. 

No one understands how hard it is to care for a loved one with Alzheimer's. I didn't. We visited on Saturday nights for dinner, fussing over the latest dings on Dad's car, where he “might have bumped” a mailbox when he drove Mom to look at horses. We saw the anxiety and stress and tried to help—but we didn't live with Mom 24 hours a day.

And while we worried and badgered him to let us run his errands, while I offered to pick up sweet corn, he continued the country drives while we kids said daily prayers to keep our parents—and all people on the roads with them—safe.

So Friday, when I drove 52 miles one way to pick up sweet corn, the irony of the drive wasn't lost on me.

And oddly, when I came home with my six dozen ears of perfect, juice-shooting sweet corn (five dozen to freeze, one dozen to eat), I felt relaxed and ridiculously excited to shuck corn. The kids came home from school, eyed the pile of unshucked corn and their mother with silks stuck all over her black t-shirt, and quickly disappeared.

I didn't care. Somehow, I knew Dad was supervising.

Now, in honor of my dad's annual sweet corn obsession, I thought I'd share how you, too, can eat delicious sweet corn at Thanksgiving (and all winter!)

First, contact your local farmer to find sweet corn. I waited a little late this year—thus, the hour drive to find corn.

Remove all husks and silks and wash well. Honestly, it's a challenge to find organic sweet corn in our area. Last year, our local farmer grew organic sweet corn.

It was phenomenal. 

However, he stopped growing the corn organically, because customers complained about “worms.” Please—give me organic sweet corn, and I will happily cut the tips off the cob to remove the worms. I'd much rather have a few tiny caterpillars than pesticides.

In a large pot, place corn in boiling water. Blanch for approximately 5-7 minutes. Blanching helps destroy enzymes that break down the nutrients and change the color and flavor of food during freezing. Start counting the blanching time as soon as you place the corn in the boiling water. (You can reuse the same blanching water several times.)

Remove the corn from the pot and immediately immerse the cobs in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. If you're freezing a large quantity of corn, you may need to buy a bag or two of ice. Chill the corn in ice water for the same amount of time as you blanched the corn.

Remove corn from water and drain. Using a thin, sharp knife, remove the kernels from each cob. I found it easiest to hold the cob on the thin, pointed end and cut the kernels directly into a bowl.

Once all of the corn is removed from the cobs, label freezer bags or storage containers with the date. Spoon corn into bags (I used pint-sized freezer bags) and remove the air from bags to prevent freezer burn. Of course, if you have a food storage system—lucky you! I just squeezed the air out of the bags, but I have been known to use a straw inserted into a small opening in the zip top to suck the air out. I know, it sounds goofy—but it works!

Freeze your perfectly labeled, delicious bags of corn immediately. Enjoy all winter.




  1. Such a sweet story. I found you on Pinterest. Thanks for sharing a story filled with love and how to preserve the corn!

    1. Thanks, Jen. Isn't it ironic how, as adults, we embrace the day-to-day traditions of our parents--even though as kids we found those traditions inexplicable?

  2. Know the heartache of a family member with Alzheimer's, so sorry about your Mother.
    What a treat to have so much sweet corn. We have been eating some sweet corn this past couple weeks...better than the first Silver Queen.
    One summer I put up 100 ears of corn.....felt a little like Henny Penny with no help from my chicks.

    1. Janet, 100 ears? Wow...I thought 5 dozen was a lot! I, too, understood Henny Penny better after my marathon session. However, my children would be perfectly happy letting me do all the work--and because it's something semi-healthy, they'd be happy to let us eat it all, too. Honestly, how can I have a child who doesn't like sweet corn or potatoes? I think the hospital switched him at birth. ;-)

  3. That's yummy corn!
    Sorry about your mom....!
    Anyway do you receive any malware warning when go to my blog? I don't knw why.....but no danger actually since I try using another acc to enter...strange....

    1. Thanks, Malar! I haven't received any strange notifications when I visit your blog. Hope it's fixed quickly for you!

  4. I had to laugh when you mentioned no seat belts and smoke filled air, How on earth did we all survive those sunday drives??! Actually very well I'd guess. Some of the best sweet corn I ever had was from a farmer on the side of the road in the depths of nowhere Manitoba. Within an hour it was in the pot, I've never had such great corn since.

  5. Oh, yes, I remember going for car rides with my parents and sometimes grandparents. My dad's dad would drive us to a smaller town than ours to go to the Dairy Queen. I'm glad they didn't smoke in the car. My mom's mom was an alcoholic, though, and her parents took us into bars sometimes, where there must have been smoking. I dearly loved her, though, and was sad when she died from cirrhosis of the liver when I was in high school.

    We have been eating sweet corn from the farmer's market all summer, and I have been putting some into vegetable soups that I have frozen in individual servings. Your bags of corn are lovely! You will enjoy them this winter, what you have of it there.