Corn creations make the best of summer's bounty

Corn fritters are served with a peach compote. BY JACK CLEMONS
August 9, 2011

Last week, the Historic Lewes Farmers Market – one of my favorite places to talk about food – invited me to conduct a demonstration. Because it was July and the corn was as high as a pachyderm’s eye, the subject was an easy choice: corn. We arrived early enough to purchase all the ingredients we would need. Cherry tomatoes were available in orange, red and yellow; melons ranged from giant watermelon to cantaloupe to the petite Gaia. We found baby red onion, slender cucumber and two types of corn – bi-color and white.

While we waited to set up for our demo, we listened to Henry Bennett’s presentation on his peach farm. He had brought bushels of yellow beauties and Blushingstars, a white-fleshed fruit with deep pink hues surrounding the pit. They served slices of several varieties and samples of peach salsa highlighting the juicy richness of their yellow peaches. He closed his talk with an invitation to the audience: come pick a peach from the branch he had brought from the orchard. The limb was drooping from the weight of a dozen ripe peaches that separated from their stems with a simple twist – talk about fresh!

We had just enough time to sort our utensils and supplies while people filled the seats in front of the counter. My friend Lina helped out as sous chef, doing all the messy peeling, dicing and slicing as I explained what we were making. I started with a corn salad that combined the signature textures and flavors of summer: halved cherry tomatoes, diced cucumber, red onion, and freshly shucked corn kernels.

Two surprises in the dish were the tart lime juice in the Balsamic vinaigrette and the sweet, crisp pieces of Gaia melon – more than one taster remarked, “There’s melon in here!” You could add another layer of interest to the dish with chunks of feta cheese. Like many mixtures, this one can adapt to what’s on hand, as well as help with pantry reduction by accommodating more mix-ins.

I used the corn husking demonstration to highlight a few tools. The silk-removal brush didn’t work as advertised; decorative corn holders were a bust – go for the tried and true yellow plastic corn-ear-shaped holders with two thin skewers. An old-fashioned Kernel Kutter was the star gadget: its round blade fit over the cob to strip off the kernels lengthwise; it worked perfectly, except for scattering some of the corn at my feet.

The next dish in the demo had one major flaw: I didn’t make enough to satisfy all the tasters looking for samples. Aided by a mini-deep-fryer filled with heated Crisco shortening, we quickly assembled a batter to make sweet corn fritters. These little treats cooked in just a couple of minutes and vanished from the plate before I could finish dusting them with powdered sugar.

This is a place where I would not substitute another oil or shortening, a lesson I learned the hard way. Crisco doesn’t add any odd flavor notes and has a high enough smoke point to keep from burning.

If you’re without a fryer, another option is to make the batter and ladle rounds into a skillet as you would silver-dollar pancakes. Either way you cook them, play up the sweetness with confectioners sugar, a dollop of maple syrup or a spoonful of fruit compote. Fritters are a delicious substitute for breakfast bread; you could describe them as almost-healthy donuts. The recipe can be adapted to turn the fritters into a savory side dish with the addition of some cayenne pepper, onion powder and snipped chives. They become similar to hush puppies in flavor while keeping the light texture of a fritter.

Although I didn’t have time to prepare the waffles or the corn chowder during the demo on Saturday, I’ve included those recipes here. As one more option on how to cook corn on the cob, I’ll share Sally Packard’s method: put the shucked corn in a pot of cold water, cover and bring to a boil, cook until they’re done. And, I’ve discovered why some old wives’ recipes include a half-cup of milk in the corn water: the corn available to our grandparents wasn’t yet bred to feature the modern varieties’ sweet and tender kernels; it needed milk to improve both taste and texture – another mystery solved.

Corn Fritters
3/4 C flour
1 T sugar
1 t baking powder
1 t salt
2 eggs
1/2 C buttermilk
3 C corn kernels
oil for frying

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl; set aside. Whisk together eggs and milk until smooth. Stir in corn. Fold in the dry ingredients, stirring to combine. Heat oil to 365 F in a deep skillet or electric frying pan. To cook fritters, drop spoonfuls with a melon baller or ice cream scoop. Use tongs to flip the fritter when the first side starts to lightly brown, about one minute. Once the other side is golden, remove with a slotted spoon to drain on paper towels. Serve with jam, compote, maple syrup or a dusting of confectioners sugar. To make this more savory, omit the sugar, and stir in 1/4 t cayenne pepper, 1/4 t onion powder and 1 T snipped chives.

Corn Waffles
1 C flour
1 C cornmeal
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 T baking soda
1/4 C brown sugar
1/4 t salt
2 eggs
2 C buttermilk
4 T melted butter
1 C corn kernels

Preheat waffle iron. Combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl; set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and buttermilk; stir in the melted butter. Pour liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients, stirring just until combined; add the corn kernels during the last bit of mixing. Ladle batter onto prepared waffle iron and cook until browned and crisp. Yield: 8 waffles.

Corn Salad
2 ears of corn
1 small cucumber
1/2 Gaia melon
1 1/2 C cherry tomatoes
1/2 C diced red onion
1 T olive oil
1/2 T Balsamic vinegar
juice of 1 lime
salt & pepper, to taste
2 T snipped chives

Peel the husks and silk from the corn; cut off the kernels into a serving bowl, along with any juices. Peel, seed and dice the cucumber and melon into the bowl. Halve the tomatoes and add to the bowl along with the onions. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Pour dressing over the salad and toss to combine. Garnish with additional chives. Note: for an entrée salad, add 1 C chopped feta cheese.

Corn Chowder
2 T butter
3 diced carrots
3 sliced green onions
1 C diced potatoes
3/4 C vegetable stock
2 C corn kernels
2 C milk or half & half
salt & pepper, to taste
chives for garnish

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan; add the carrots and green onion. Sauté over medium high until wilted and soft, about 4 minutes. Stir in the potatoes and pour in the stock, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook until the potatoes are almost done, about 10 minutes. Stir in the corn and milk (or half & half or combination); simmer gently for about 3 minutes (do not boil or the milk will scald). Season to taste with salt and pepper; garnish with snipped chives. Yield: 4 servings.

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