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In 1953 a University of Illinois scientist discovered a gene that caused corn kernels to store less starch and more sugar. He tried to market the new variety, but the corn industry wasn’t interested. A half century –- and many varieties — later, his discovery is the sweet corn many Americans enjoy during the heart of summer. We explore the fascinating history of this succulent summer staple, and find out how to pick it, prepare it and enjoy it.
- William Tracy Professor of Agronomy at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Sydney Meers Owner and Chef at Stove, The Restaurant
Sweet Corn Recipes (Courtesy: Sydney Meers, Stove, The Restaurant, Portsmouth, VA.)
Syd’s Creamed Corn
10 ears corn, sweet white preferred like silver queen
2 strips bacon, rendered
1 oz. butter, unsalted
1 oz. Hi gluten flour
1 cup water
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Add butter and render fat, remove bacon and dice
2. Add bacon and corn, then sprinkle in flour and cook and stir to thicken a bit, about 5 minutes
3. Then add water and cook for about 30 minutes. Stir often so the bottom doesn’t stick — if some sticks just stir it into mixture.
3. Now season — sea salt and pepper from a mill is recommended
4. Cool until ready to use; when ready, add a small amount of stock, water or cream and reduce again
This can be a side dish or poured over sautéed or grilled fish
Crème Fraiche Cold Slaw
1 cup crème fraiche
4 roasted garlic cloves
6 basil leaves
Juice of one lemon
(Put all ingredients in food processor and blend by just pulsing, don’t process until smooth )
3 cups napa cabbage or green cabbage, sliced thin
1 thin cut English cucumber
6 ears yellow sweet corn or Silver Queen sweet corn, cut off the cob
Add greens, corn and cucumbers; toss with blended crème fraiche mixture to coat
Season with sea salt and pepper to taste
Serve with meats or fish; the slaw also works well with the slow roast pork belly served at Stove.
Goat Cheese Corn Pancake###
8 oz. white corn meal, coarse water milled type
4 oz. hi gluten flour or bread flour
1 tbl. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. sea salt
(Mix all above together and set aside)
2 extra large eggs, beaten lightly
2 cups whole buttermilk
2 oz. melted butter, cooled
(Mix all above together and set aside)
2 stalks of scallions, whites and 1inch of the green tops, chopped roughly
4 cloves of roasted garlic, smashed
(Mix together and sauté until onions are glazed, set aside to cool)
4 oz. of goat cheese, crumbled
Pour wet ingredients on top of the dry ingredients, mix well but don’t over mix, then add the scallions mixture and the cheese. Fold them in.
Let mixture develop for 10 minutes before refrigerating.
Spoon mixture onto your griddle, pan or iron skillet and cook like a pancake, flipping to brown. Don’t overcook. The pancakes are savory, but they do well with syrups.
MR. KOJO NNAMDISome like it hot, some like it raw and some like it dripping with salt and butter. I'm talking, of course, about sweet corn. It's a summer staple for many of us and it can evoke happy memories of state fairs, 4th of July's and family picnics. But there are a few things I bet you did not know about this sweet vegetable. First, it was born in a lab and chances are your grandparents never ate it when they were kids. Second, it has a reputation for smut and I'm not talking about the lewd kind.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd finally, if you've boiled your sweet corn for more than a minute, you've overcooked it. Don't take my word for it. Here to help us sort out sweet corn fact from fiction is Bill Tracy, professor of agronomy at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He joins us from the studios of Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison. Bill Tracy, thank you for joining us.
MR. WILLIAM TRACYThanks for inviting me.
NNAMDIBill, corn goes back to prehistoric times, but a lot of us might not know that the sweet corn we know and love today was born in the lab just a few decades ago.
TRACYWell, the sweet corn that we eat today that's -- I would accept that, but sweet corn does go back hundreds of years, as a matter of fact. It was used by the Native Americans in Pre-Columbian times. But the sweet corn that's predominant in the market came out of a lab in -- well, came -- I would rather say came out of a field in Champagne, Ill.
TRACYA professor there named John Laughnan, one day, was looking at some odd types of corn and he popped a kernel in his mouth and found out it was very sweet. And that was the birth of what we now call super sweet, sweet corn. And I think that's what you're talking about specifically. And indeed, most of what we eat today is based on that type of corn.
NNAMDIWhat happened when John Laughnan brought his discovery to the corn industry? Did John Laughnan get rich?
TRACYJohn Laughnan didn't get rich and he was -- this is -- we're talking in the '50s and early '60s and the model in those days was that professors at land grant universities did public research and the public benefited from that work. However, seed, sweet corn seed and all other seeds, basically, are sold to farmers by companies. And there were a couple of companies that got very rich on Professor Laughnan's discovery and they did not return a whole lot back to his research program.
TRACYSo -- and it's a little -- it's also interesting that his initial idea for this super sweet, sweet corn was actually ignored by the industry and he actually produced the first hybrids on land that he rented and worked with his sons and -- just to prove how good it was. So it's actually a very interesting story, but he certainly didn't get rich on it.
NNAMDIYou can join this conversation. Call us, 800-433-8850. How do you like to eat your sweet corn? Are you guilty of over-boiling it sometimes? Do you eat it raw? Is sweet corn a popular food in your house during the summer? 800-433-8850 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, a tweet at kojoshow.
NNAMDIBill, I guess we should clarify for our listeners what it means to work on genetic mutations of corn varieties. Are we talking about genetically modified food here?
TRACYNot in the sense that the public thinks about it, in the sense that a gene from a different organism has been moved into the corn plant. When we talk about genetically modified, that's what people mean is taking a gene from one species and putting it into another. Corn is one of the variable species on earth and it generates its own mutations. All organisms do, but corn does it a very high rate. And, in fact, the traditional kind of sweet corn, which we call sugary corn, and that goes back to like 1,000 years old, we now know that there are at least five different mutations that Native Americans around the Western Hemisphere fixed as that new gene.
TRACYSo these mutations happen all the time. They're natural and plant breeders and farmers have been using them to improve their animal breeds and their plant breeds for a long time and this is a very traditional process.
NNAMDIBill, are Americans the biggest consumers of this supersweet corn? How has this crop spread internationally?
TRACYWell, that's an interesting story. I've been at Wisconsin now for 27 years. When I came here -- sweet corn really was born in the U.S. and by that I mean, the sweet corn that we eat, we boil and have corn on the cob. And, again, that goes back to colonial times, very popular. But it was a U.S. crop. Canada, of course, we share a lot of things and Canada also likes sweet corn. That's pretty much where it was until World War II when the Americans went to Japan and they introduced sweet corn there and -- so about 30 years ago, it was really the U.S., Japan and Canada.
TRACYNow, it's all over the world. Thailand, Brazil, South America -- South Africa, almost every country in the world does significant sweet corn production and it's become very popular. And I think what's really interesting is it's used in ways that most Americans might raise their eyebrows at. In Thailand, it's very popular as a topping for ice cream. So on your sundae or your ice cream -- bowl of ice cream, they'll sprinkle sweet corn kernels. And in Brazil, I understand it's the number one pizza topping. And in Europe, it's actually preferred to as a garnish on salads.
NNAMDIYes, I've heard that -- I've heard that other countries find uncouth to eat corn off the cob and you mentioned several other places in which they use it differently. And it's my understanding that in Europe, in particular, they don't like eating it off the cob.
TRACYThat's true. Europeans don't like eating corn off the cob. They -- I guess I would agree with you, they think it's uncouth. They think it's a bit barbaric, but I have a feeling that's why Americans like it because it's something they can sink their teeth into and it's a fun food to eat. So it's different in different parts of the world.
NNAMDIThailand plays a major role in sweet corn production. You mentioned Thailand. It's my understanding it's now the leading exporter of sweet corn while the U.S. is the largest consumer, correct?
TRACYRight. And most of the Thai sweet corn probably doesn't come here. It probably goes to Europe where, again, it's used in the way that I talked about. It probably goes to Japan. Japan used to be a major user of our sweet corn, but the Thai sweet corn is probably cheaper.
TRACYBut Thailand is also a big (word?) consumer. I haven't been to Thailand, but I've had colleagues who've gone there and in grocery stores or convenience where we might see a cooler, a glass-fronted cooler with bottles of Coke or Pepsi, they actually have sweet corn juice that they've squeezed from the sweet corn and they sell it as a beverage. So they're a little bit more creative than we are on that kind of thing.
NNAMDISweet corn juice is good enough to drink. You know, in doing research for this story on sweet corn, we came across a story by our producer, Elisabeth Weinstein's mother, Anne Cook that she wrote back in 1992, that the ailing 92-year-old mother of Thailand's king ordered several fresh ears of the University of Illinois extra -- extra sweet corn to be delivered to her in her convalesce. The University scrambled to grant her request before she died. Were you aware of this?
TRACYI was not until your producer told me, but it's a great story. And I, as I told your producer, I'll make sure that it goes to -- it's well recorded in sweet corn lore and get it out to my colleagues because it is a great story.
NNAMDIIt sure is. Bill, you're following in John Laughnan's footsteps as one of the last sweet corn breeders in academia. Tell us about some of the work that you do and whether we can taste of your varieties at farm stands right now.
TRACYWell, you probably can. My varieties -- basically, I develop improved inbreds, but farmers sell hybrids. And the way you make a hybrid is you cross two inbreds together and that gives what we call a hybrid, which has more vigor and yields more and it often tastes better. And -- so my lines are largely used by companies that then will cross them with their lines. And so out in your area, I'm sure there's some sweet corn hybrids with my lines in them, but I literally don't actually know the names because the companies then brand themselves.
TRACYUnlike John Laughnan, though, they do return a royalty to my research program and that helps me support graduate students and helps me support my research. So...
NNAMDIWell, good for you. If you're interested in joining this conversation about sweet corn, how much time do you spend hunting down fresh summer produce like sweet corn? You can call us at 800-433-8850. Tell us, what's your favorite sweet corn recipe?
NNAMDIYou can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Send us a tweet at kojoshow, e-mail to email@example.com or just call, 800-433-8850 like Sally in Reston, Va. Sally, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SALLYYes, I have a really quick question here. My understanding is that -- actually that the genetic or the DNA of corn has been changed because of introduction of something that goes well with Roundup. In other words the farmers don't want the smut or the bugs or anything to make the corn unsightly or not usable and make it last longer. So my understanding is that in the genetic makeup of a corn, there's some sort of a pesticide or herbicide in that corn that we eat. And frankly, I've kind of stopped eating it for that reason. But I'd like to see if my impression or my understanding is correct?
TRACYRight. Yes, no -- that -- and for most of what we call field corn, which goes into all sorts of prepared foods, also mostly feeds cattle and pigs and chicken, most of that does have a gene from a bacteria that helps it resist either herbicides or also helps it resist insects.
TRACYAnd that is true. I would say probably 75 percent of the field corn, and again, this is the corn for grain, we get corn oil from it, cornstarch, all those kinds of things. But the sweet corn that you would consume is likely -- there are some varieties of sweet corn that do have that, but it's a distinct minority.
TRACYI would say no more than 20 percent of the sweet corn's have such a gene and you're probably very likely, if you go to a roadside stand or something like that in your area or CSA, you're probably very likely to get a non-genetically modified crop.
NNAMDISally -- go ahead.
TRACYIn the case of field corn, the vast majority is genetically modified.
SALLYOkay. I think I've learned there. I still get nervous about it because, you know, my understanding that soy and rice have also been introduced with these products and I don't know that that's been verified as good for humans. It makes me a little nervous, but, you know, I'll keep watching and listening and thanks to your guest.
NNAMDI...thank you very much for your call. Bill, Sally mentioned the word smut. You've done some work on corn smut. What is it and why is it considered a delicacy in some places?
TRACYCorn smut is a fungus that grows on the ear of corn. It basically parasitizes the corn kernel and turns it into its own smut gall and so an ear that's infected with smut might have a couple hundred of these galls on it and they can get quite large.
TRACYI've seen they're almost as big as my fist. But it is a fungus. It's a mushroom. It's basically in the same group as the mushrooms and it can be prepared in any way that a mushroom can be prepared. It's a true delicacy in Mexico and it's frequently prepared, again, the way mushrooms are prepared, with garlic, oil, onions, something like that. Often prepared in a tortilla. I've had it mixed with eggs and it's a very popular delicacy. We actually tried to produce -- well, we actually successfully produced it here and it was very popular here in Madison.
TRACYThe problem was is that it's highly perishable and so in terms of marketing, it becomes a little tricky. But it's a popular delicacy and some of the higher end restaurants, I'm sure, in D.C. have, at least occasionally, have corn smut on the menu. It's called wheat al coche in the common name in Mexico.
NNAMDIHere is an e-mail comment we got from Randy on our website. "Might there ever be too much sugar? Corn should taste like corn. A peach purveyor once told me to eat yellow peaches if I wanted peaches. White peaches if I wanted candy." What do you say to that, Bill?
TRACYI agree with him completely. And, as a matter of fact, with all due respect, John Laughnan, who was actually a wonderful man, the first super sweets were too sweet and many traditional sweet corn users kind of recoiled. The newer varieties have really brought back the great corn favor, those aromas that are so important and still have a higher sweetness level.
TRACYBut when it's combined with these other flavors, they're a very pleasant product and they're really popular with a lot of people. The other thing I want to mention about this is that, and I think I told your producer this the other day, is that whoever named supersweet, sweet corn, that was a mistake because, in fact, supersweet, sweet corn is lower in calories and higher in protein than the traditional sweet corn is.
TRACYSo it's, you know, to our modern ears, where we're worried about our diets, saying something's super sweet is a little scary, but it's actually a healthy product, high in fiber, vitamin A, if it's yellow and a desirable product so -- and nutritious product.
NNAMDIWe're gonna take a short break. When we come back, Sydney Meers will be joining us. He's the owner and chef of Stove, The Restaurant in Portsmouth, Va. He'll talk about how you select your sweet corn. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. You can send us e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's Food Wednesday. We're talking sweet corn with Bill Tracy, professor of agronomy at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He joins us from the studios of Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison. Joining us now by telephone from Portsmouth, Va. is Sydney Meers. He is the owner and chef of Stove, The Restaurant in Portsmouth, Va. Syd, thank you so much for joining us. Syd, are you there? I can't hear Syd right now.
NNAMDIBut Bill, here's an e-mail we got from Michael in Mt. Joy, Pennsylvania. "I've been to Thailand many times and they do have a lot of corn and it looks great, but it comes nowhere near the succulent taste of sweet corn in my home area of Lancaster County, Pa." What do you think accounts for that, Bill?
TRACYWell, there's a couple of things. And Lancaster County, Pa. is a great area and a traditional area for sweet corn. There's two things that mainly account for it. Number one, Thailand is a tropical area and as a tropical area, it has more pests than Lancaster County. And tropical corns tend to be tougher. They tend to be perhaps less sweet because they have to resist those pests. And being tougher, meaning the skin of the kernel being tougher, helps resist those pests.
TRACYThe other thing that's really interesting is the best sweet corn, and I'm from Wisconsin so I can say this, the best sweet corn comes from areas that have cool nights because if you have hot nights, the sugars in the plant get chewed up by respiration, and they are wasted. So a place like Thailand with very hot nights is going to have less sugar in the kernel than a place like Lancaster, Pa. with a cool evening, and you get the very best sweet corns from places with cool nights.
NNAMDISyd Meers, you spend a good part of your week searching Delmarva and Chesapeake Bay area farm stands looking for the freshest produce you can for your restaurant in Portsmouth. Let's start with the basics. How do we select the best sweet corn?
MR. SYDNEY MEERSWell, it helps if you can go out in the field where the farmers are. Most of them will be glad to show you. I've got a couple of farms where I know the farmers real well, and I just pull up and go out and start looking at corn. You get to where you can pretty much tell. They'll fatten up a little bit under the husk. You can start seeing the lines of the kernel, and you can look at the little beard on top, and when it starts to have that reddish looking coming out of the cob and then you get towards in and it's starting to look (word?) , you can pretty much open one those, take a bite out, and it's gonna be pretty close to ready.
NNAMDIMost aficionados just eat it straight off the cob without boiling it. Bill always tastes it right in the field before taking it home, don't you, Bill?
TRACYThat's right. And again, that's the more modern varieties. The old-fashioned varieties they, in most people's opinion, do need the butter and salt. But the modern varieties, they can be eaten like a fruit, just like an apple.
NNAMDISyd, do you do the same thing, taste it right in the field before you decide?
MEERSOh, absolutely. And I even eat it when I serve it here. We'll boil water, and then when it's time for the dish to go out, I'll throw it in there for about 15 seconds and put it on the plate, and then people just chow down on it. I've even tried cutting it off the cob to serve it, but people down here -- and even though I've got kind of a gourmet restaurant, they still want to eat it on the cob.
NNAMDIBut when you just blanche it like that for 15 seconds, aren't the kernels still too hard to eat?
MEERSNot on the sweet corns we have down here.
NNAMDIAh. So what kind of corn should we be boiling for, oh, maybe ten minutes or so?
MEERSThat would be corn I wouldn't eat.
TRACYI would agree. I would say even the old-fashioned varieties don't have to -- you don't have to boil them. The one thing I would add is -- I always get that question. And I'm not a cook or a chef, so I asked my mother and my mother said, you boil it until it smells like corn. And that's a -- there's a good idea there because the compounds that give it the good aroma are sulfur-containing compounds, proteins. And if you break those proteins, that's when you get the aroma. But I agree with Syd, you don't want to go any longer than you have to. I mean...
NNAMDISyd, how about butter and salt? A lot of people use a lot of that on their sweet corn.
MEERSWell, you know, down here in the south, we love butter and sugar, and we don't put sugar on the corn because it's usually sweet enough, but we slab a lot of butter on it. And the butter, for some reason, as it melts, you're left with just the oil. It clarifies kind of and it just adds a little enhancement to the sweetness of the corn. You still taste pretty much major corn flavor.
NNAMDIHow about you, Bill? You don't much like salt and butter on yours.
TRACYNo. And -- well, there's two reasons for that. One is I think that when it's right fresh out of the field, as Syd has already said, you can cut it off the cob without even cooking it and it's great. The other thing is, I have heart disease so I go with my sweet corn natural or naked.
NNAMDIThere you go. Let's go to the phones. Here's Laura in Frederick, Md. Laura, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LAURAYes. I have a question. My husband was raised in upstate New York, and he always refers to yellow corn as cow corn. You don't eat cow corn, that's the kind of corn that you feed your cows. And the only kind of corn that he'll get is what he calls butter and sugar corn, the yellow and white corn, or all white corn. I just wanted to know what you opinion was of that statement.
NNAMDIBill, are there differences in taste between yellow corn, white corn and the yellow-white varieties?
TRACYWell, there are differences. Mainly -- but they're fairly subtle. But what her husband's talking about is the fact that in the old days, and I don't know how old her husband is, she didn't sound very old to me, but farmers would sometimes sell field corn, or starchy corn, the grain corn, to the unsuspecting customer, and it doesn't taste very good. You can roast it and it's okay, but it's not good.
TRACYBut a number of -- well, in the '50s actually, a man name named Oscar Pierson (sp?) developed the first butter and sugar variety, which is a variety that has yellow and white kernels. Field corn never has yellow and white kernels. So in New England and New York, the consumers very quickly learned that if they bought the ears with the yellow and white kernels, they were getting sweet corn. And if they bought the yellow ones, they were getting field corn.
TRACYBut that's -- we have good yellow sweet corn, and good white sweet corn, which I understand is more popular often in the middle Atlantic states and down toward the south. So all three can be delicious, but I think her husband was the victim of a perhaps slightly unscrupulous farmer.
NNAMDIClear this up, Bill. Any relationship whatever between color and sweetness?
TRACYYes. There is a -- no. There's no relation between color and sweetness. There's a slight -- we understand, and this is actually from feeding trials, or working with people in Africa and trying to give them higher beta carotene in their food, it turns out that there is a slight difference in flavor between pure white corn and yellow corn.
TRACYBut in terms of sweetness, no.
NNAMDILaura, thank you very much for your call. Syd, what kind of sweet corn are you serving at Stove, The Restaurant right now?
MEERSI'm serving what we call down here a silver queen. It's a white corn, and it's very, very sweet, and right now it's starting to be in every field. I also have some that I grow and a friend grows down the road, and we grow this, what a lot of people call an Indian corn, but it's a red corn. It's got a little bit tougher skin, but it's got a little bit of sweetness to it, and it's good when you sauté with other things. When I use white corn, I tend to use it in the raw state.
NNAMDISyd, what -- can we freeze sweet corn and still preserve its flavor?
MEERSYou can. Here's what you do. You gotta blanche. You take it -- rather, you leave it on the cob or cut it off, you gotta take it and blanche it for about 15, 20 seconds, pull it out, put it in bags and freeze it right away. And then, when you cook it later in the year, it's gonna taste fresh and sweet. But it's not really a great practice. I mean, sweet corn was designed to be eaten right away.
NNAMDIThat was an e-mail question we got for you also, Bill. "If I buy corn at the farm stand, but can't cook it for a day or two later, should it be stored in the fridge on ice on the concrete floor of the garage? I've heard plenty of conflicting advice. How should I keep sweet corn from getting starchy after a few days of being picked?" Bill?
TRACYIt should be refrigerated. Again, I agree 100 percent with Syd that it should be consumed as soon as possible after being picked. But if you cannot do that, then it should be put in the refrigerator. I wouldn't freeze it because again, that will destroy the texture without the blanching and everything. But as far as -- it should be refrigerated.
TRACYThe old-fashioned corns -- and silver queen is a great variety, but it's kind of in the middle between the newer ones and the older ones. A variety like silver queen, if it's left at room temperature, and I know you guys have had some hot room temperatures down there, will lose half its sugar in 24 hours or even more.
TRACYSo you need to get those things refrigerated.
MEERSYeah. And you know, can I add one thing?
NNAMDIPlease do, Syd.
MEERSThe -- the whole point in all this summer food is people, instead of going into comfortable refrigerated grocery stores and buying all these things that are sitting on the shelves, half that stuff was baked so long ago by the time you eat it, I mean, it's -- I'm surprised it's even edible. You should get out and go to these farms and get it that day, and you should eat it that night or the next morning, because, I mean, that was the way we had to do it before we had all these modern conveniences.
MEERSI mean, this, you know, to pick it and even to try and find a way to keep it for two or three days is wrong in my opinion. I mean, you're supposed to pick and eat it. I go to the farms daily. I get what I'm gonna use for that night and then that's it. And then, if I run out of it during the night, then guess what, we move to the next edition.
TRACYYeah. I have a little bit of an anecdote along those lines, too. Frequently I'll have a variety that I just -- it's a new thing that I've developed, and it's just, I think, fabulous. I'll drop it off at a friend's house, maybe leave it by their door, because I want to give them a great treat. Three days later, I'll say, how was that corn? And they'll say to me, oh, we haven't eaten it yet. We're saving it for the weekend when we're having a party. And it's like, oh, my God. That is just like...
NNAMDII made a mistake here.
TRACYI want to hit them with the ear of corn then.
NNAMDIHere is Chris is Washington D.C. Speaking of silver queen, Chris, your turn.
CHRISWell, you know, I guess the woman from Frederick kind of stole my thunder, because my girlfriend and I are having the same debate over what's better, silver queen or yellow. I still maintain silver queen. So I guess I would just like to say my favorite way to eat corn is to take butter and put it on the bread and slather that on the corn, and then when you eat the bread you've got this nice corn buttery bread. It's delicious.
NNAMDIThat one I've never heard of before, Chris.
MEERSActually, that's -- my dad would eat it that way all the time. He'd even put a slice of sweet onion on it. You must be from the deep south.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Speaking of how people like to eat it, Syd, can you give us a short recipe idea or two for sweet corn?
MEERSWell, you know, I sent y'all quite a few that people can look at, I think, on your...
NNAMDIYeah. We put links to them on our website, kojoshow.org, correct.
MEERSYeah. But one of my favorite and, you know, it's funny because we were talking about serving it, kind of warm and, you know, I like to do it in fritters because the fritter cooks, but the corn doesn't. The corn just kind of gets steamed so it's still a good raw flavor. I make what I call crème fraiche slaw and I use lettuce, but I fold in a little bit of corn with it, too. And even on a -- I've got a corn and go cheese spread, and you just take and you masacrate (sic) all these things together.
MEERSThen you fold your corn into it and you spread it on fish or meat, and I'm telling you, it's heaven. And just the heat from the product you put it on that was cooked, it warms it up, but it doesn't cook it. So you still have that wonderful, fresh, sweet flavor.
NNAMDISyd, are you going to have sweet corn at your Farm To Feast week, which, it's my understanding, starts at Stove on what, August 7?
MEERSThe 7th through the 13th, yeah. I've got a couple of farmers that will come in all during the week, and corn will be on every day. As a matter of fact, on my website, I have the menu posted there and it changes -- each day, we'll change the menu based on what I get from the farmers.
NNAMDIAll right. Here is Marsha in Reston, Va. Marsha, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARSHAHi there. I just wanted to say that I grew up in Madison, WI in the early '50s. When I was a teenager, they hired kids to go out into the corn fields to detassle the corn at farms in Sun Prairie where there was hybrid corn. Do they still have to do that?
TRACYWell, that -- detassling is when they're making the hybrids, and yes, they do. You probably worked for the Rank Seed Company in Sun Prairie and they...
TRACY...still are there and they still detassle corn. Also, when you were there, there was a big canning factory, and they still have the big Sun Prairie Sweet Corn Festival in August. So that still goes on, too. So yeah, Sun Prairie is still there and still going strong.
NNAMDIMarsha, thank you for your...
MARSHAYeah. I just wanted to say that actually it was one of the worst jobs that I ever had. I got a terrible sunburn. And my hat that was shellacked with something went into my head and it took me weeks to comb it all out. So I thought that there was better ways to make a living than this.
NNAMDIOh, Marsha, I was just about to tell you they're hiring right now. But I'm sorry, I don't think Marsha's going back. Thank you for your call. Here is Anne in Washington D.C. Anne, your turn.
ANNEThank you for taking my call. I just -- I had a recipe I wanted to -- that was a little bit unusual. I don't know if you could call it a recipe, but I learned this from an Iranian-American friend. And what she did, and I think some others do in that community, is they simply take corn on the cob, and if you have a gas range you put it across the burner, and you very lightly char the kernels.
ANNEAnd it may sound like they're not done to do it this way, but actually they are done, and it tastes like popcorn. You don't even need -- you put a little salt on it, but you don't even need to put oil or -- olive oil or butter on it, and it's very quickly done. And it's really delicious and extremely distinctive. The other issue I just wanted to raise was just to make sure that the listening audience doesn't mistake sweet corn which is nutritious, with the industrial strength corn that is used in high fructose corn syrup. The documentary "King Corn" went into the...
NNAMDIYou have to make that distinction, right, Bill Tracy?
TRACYThat's right. Very much so.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Anne. Right quickly, Bill Tracy, how have researchers increased the shelf life of sweet corn?
TRACYWell, again, that's the transition from the older sugary types to the supersweets. The supersweets, even at room temperature, don't lose their sugar very quickly. They'll toughen up because they'll be losing moisture. It's just like leaving any other vegetable out on the counter, but they don't lose their sugar. So that's one of the reasons that the supersweets have become more popular because they're -- I would say for the farmer they're a little more forgiving because as we've already discussed, customers often do the wrong things with the produce.
NNAMDIBill Tracy is a professor of agronomy at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Wisconsin Madison. Thank you for joining us, Bill.
TRACYThank you very much.
NNAMDISydney Meers is owner and chef of Stove, The Restaurant in Portsmouth, Va. Syd, thank you for joining us.
MEERSThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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