As yellow as the summer sunshine and twice as sweet, there's nothing like sinking your teeth into the perfect piece of corn on the cob.
This sweet treat is easily a strong supporting player at a late summer barbecue, but some inventive cooking methods and unexpected toppings can make it the star.
Granite state corn is usually harvested anywhere from July 1 to Sept. 16, according to the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension web site.
Due to heavy rains earlier this spring and summer, this year's corn crop has been a little unpredictable, said Danielle Hubbard, manager of Homestead Farms in Walpole. However, that shouldn't deter folks from digging in this summer.
Hubbard said when choosing the right ear of corn, taking a good look at the husk is a great place to start. "You know it's not fresh if the outer husks start to turn brown and are really dry," Hubbard said. "If it was freshly picked that morning — which is the best in our opinion — it will have a wet look to it because dew has fallen on it and the silk will be kind of caked together. That to us is the sign that it is fresh. Very green, very wet looking."
In New Hampshire, sweet corn is popular and easy to grow. About half of the vegetable acreage among market gardeners throughout New England is devoted to sweet corn, according to the cooperative extension. The average yield for a home garden is about one to two ears per stalk, they said.
Around here, sweet corn comes in three kernel colors: yellow, white and bicolor, which is a mixture of yellow and white.
"Although the bicolor varieties are the most popular in New England, the quality of the yellow and white varieties is equally as good as the bicolor, depending on the specific variety, the growing and handling conditions and the personal preferences of the consumer," according to the cooperative extension.
Further, there are three types of sweet corn which include normal sweet, sugary enhanced and supersweet. Each color is available in each type, they said. The sugary enhanced and supersweet will keep their sweetness longer than the normal sweet.
Like a good farmer does when he or she is harvesting the corn, Hubbard said, feeling the tops of the corn to see if it was picked at the just the right time is a good idea. Corn picked too early will have sort of nubby, flat, undeveloped pieces at the top. It will also have large spaces in between the kernels. Meanwhile overgrown corn will be a little pasty and the kernels are packed together and kind of muddled and you don't want that either, Hubbard said.
The kernels should be close together, but not too close. There should be a space, but not a gap in between. Hubbard said to also look for worm damage. When worm damage is evident, you'll see brown slime on the corn.
Once the perfect piece of corn is picked, it's time to cook. There are typically three ways to go: boiled, grilled or roasted.
Boiled is a good standby, but beware, said Josephine Doroja of A Personal Chef Service in Exeter, boiling strips the corn of valuable nutrients and flavor.
However, if a boil it must be, best to do it right. Start by bringing the water to a boil first.
Some people add sugar and salt to the water, but it's optional. Put the corn in the water and bring it to a boil again. Leave the corn in for 5-7 minutes or until it feels tender when poked with a fork.
Grilling is another way to go, Doroja said. To do this, leave the corn in the husk. This will keep the moisture in the corn, she said.
It's OK to put the corn right over the flames, she said. If the grill is really hot, cook for 2½ minutes on one side, turn, and grill another 2½ minutes on the other side. The grilling will enhance the sweetness of the corn and add a nice smoky flavor. It also helps the corn maintain more of its nutritional value, she said.
But sometimes, with the abundance of beef on the grill, there's just no room for corn, said personal chef Patti Anastasia of Anastasia's Table in Londonderry.
When that happens, corn is just delightful when roasted and has an added benefit of making it easier to get that pesky corn silk off the cob.Anastasia said preheat the oven to 400 degrees and place the corn, still in the husk, right on the rack. Cook for 25 to 30 minutes, remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before shucking.
"(The roasting) helps the sweetness. When you grill it, you get the char, but when you roast it, it's a little bit subtler with the flavor," Anastasia said. "The other thing I love about roasting is that it's totally hands off. You don't even have to pay attention to it at all."
She likes to top corn with just a little fresh basil and butter. But for a creative interpretation, she likes a warm, roasted corn salad. She starts by cutting the corn off of the cob then mixing it with ¼ cup of buttermilk or ranch dressing, a tablespoon of fresh chopped parsley, two or three sliced green onions, as well as a tablespoon each of lemon juice and olive oil.
"It is so good," she said. "And then if you want to you can put some roasted red peppers in it to add more color or dried roasted pepper. And that is like — I've been bonkers over that all summer."