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How to Choose Fresh Corns

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Corn on the cob should be as fresh as possible. If it is not home grown, "U-pick-it" is the next best guarantee of freshness. While refrigeration will slow down the sugar-to-starch conversion process, it will not stop it, and freshness diminishes each hour that passes from field to table. A good farm stand or farmer's market can be the best commercial source for fresh corn, but beware of corn that is picked the afternoon before sale or is picked early in the morning and allowed to languish in the sun until you buy it. It would be better in that case to buy supermarket corn that has been refrigerated or at least handled in cool surroundings. During the high season most farmers pick more than once a day and will be glad to tell you when they are bringing in freshly picked corn.

If you are relegated to supermarket corn, choose the greenest, most moist ears you can find, with silks that are as clear and yellow as possible. Dried up stem ends and coarse, dark brown tassels indicate corn that is old or has been long off the stalk.

I get very upset with people who go into a market or vegetable stall and pull down the husks of every ear they pick up. Normally, they jab a fingernail into a kernel, discard the ear, never pulling the husk up again, thereby letting the ear dry out. Hefting the ear, running your fingers up the outside of the husk will often tell you if it is fresh or dried out. If you feel you cannot choose without pulling back the husk, pull back only about 1 inch and feel the kernels. If they feel plump and do not look shriveled or dry, the corn is probably fresh. Should you feel compelled to jab a fingernail into a kernel, look for a very liquid, milky juice. And when you reject an ear, smooth the husk back as much as possible to preserve any moisture that may remain. The only time I feel it might be wise to pull the husk back farther than about 1 inch is at the end of the season when corn worms may have invaded the crop. But you can usually tell from the tassel end - you will see the trails made by the worms as they work down into the cob - or from holes in the husks themselves if the ear is harboring visitors.

Corn is low in calories and is a good source of vitamin C and fiber. As a life-sustaining grain, however, unlike wheat, oats and barley, it lacks niacin; and any diet that doesn't contain another source of protein or niacin as well as other vitamins will be insufficient and can lead to a condition called pellagra.

You will need one to two ears of corn per person. Depending on the size of the ears, one ear will yield to 1/2 cup corn cut from the cob.

 

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