There are few foods that my family restricts to certain times of the year. My father has been known to whip a box of Thin Mints out of the freezer in the middle of July, and I keep a sizable collection of Libby’s Pure Pumpkin year round. Sure, we have the traditional meals that go with certain holidays or seasons, but it isn’t like turkey in mid-April is out of the question. However, our open-minded flexibility has its limits and that line is drawn at corn on the cob. I know it sounds silly, but trust me, in Sussex County, Delaware, corn in a big deal.
My father is a stickler for quality corn on the cob. Don’t even think about buying the frozen stuff or even the cellophane wrapped packages in the produce aisle. No, he wants to see it in the husk. And even when the crates show up in the first few weeks of June, he eyes them wearily. “That’s Carolina corn,” he says matter-of-factly, despite the “local” sign tacked next to the price tag, “ours won’t be ready for weeks.” And he’s right. The fields we pass on the way home have stalks barely a foot high. “Knee high by the Fourth of July” is the adage (given we get enough rain of course), so we won’t get really local corn until a few weeks after that.
But soon enough, the roadside stands pop up with local heirloom tomatoes, zucchini, and an abundance of corn. We finally get our hands on those ears, it is clear why we wait. The corn available for Memorial Day is pathetic, with small kernels and big gaps, like a second grader’s mouth, with rows that are half baby teeth and half expectant holes. The corn that comes later (and after a good deal of patience) is so worth the wait. The entire cob is well populated with huge, sweet kernels that burst when you bite into them. Sunday, the one day I have off each week, has been ordained “summer meal” night and is always accompanied by a plate of freshly shucked corn. On the weeks when I worked all seven days, I would arrive home and bound up the porch steps at the sight of stray corn silks littering the ground.Sure enough,sitting in the bottom drawer of the fridge, are the two ears they saved for me.
The few short weeks where we can get the best local corn, make up for the months that we can’t. I’ve come to realize that this is what makes corn on the cob (and any food worth having) special. Yes, it tastes like summer and days at the beach and nights catching fireflies, but it also reminds me that some things are only worth doing if you can do them well. It reminds me that despite what many pessimists tell you, it is still possible to buy food from the farmers who grew it. It makes me realize that the best things aren’t the things you can have everyday and that the things you love the most are usually the simplest.