Saturday, July 4, 2009

Living on Borrowed Corn

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         It’s the Fourth of July, and we are beside ourselves here in Little Compton. Yes,there is finally some sun among the clouds today, at least this morning; storms are predicted for later. But it feels and looks like a blustery fall day; the wind is literally whistling around the house. Still, that is only the source, not the manifest consequences, of our distress. It’s the Fourth of July, and there is no corn.

Perhaps we’re spoiled—OK, we are—but one of the things in life you always look forward to seeing is that corn sign, up at the local stands, almost like clockwork on the 4th. Not that we can’t still, and won’t, look forward to it. But it will not be the same, like being told on December 25th that you have to wait to celebrate Christmas until sometime in February. It's not that there’s no corn at all, of course; there is. It’s just that it’s not from here, and no self-respecting farmer would ever put his corn sign up for that.

So far this year I’ve only seen my own farmer-purveyor from a distance, and from the back, passing his tractor on the road with a wave, catching a glimpse of him carrying things into the barns or moving equipment. Even from afar, I think I can see the anxiety in his shoulders. But I don’t need to ask what’s wrong, and why there’s no corn. And I don’t need to ask why the fields out back, which normally would have knee-high corn by now, sit still untilled. We all know. Rain. A stunning 6" in one day this week alone.

So this Fourth of July we are celebrating our independence with dependence, and it sticks in our craw. We are eating corn from —the hushed response to my question about where the corn was from, as only local produce carries the farm’s own sign—Delaware. Not even New Jersey, which would have still brought shame but that we all secretly know is almost as good as ours. (Having been raised in New Jersey, I do not say that lightly). But Delaware? It’s not like it’s Florida—we would never eat that--but this is a new low. On this day of all days, we know that not all corns are created equal.

Still, it’s the Fourth: as Americans, we must soldier on. We will make do. Even though the corn looks quite presentable—I’m guessing it had been picked within two days—there is no question about eating it on the cob. We measure corn freshness in hours, even minutes, not days. Although of course I tried the smallest of the already small ears. No go.

So while we are living on borrowed corn, do something to cosmetic it up, and conceal its age. Appropriately dressed, it will be good, even very good—and pass for much younger. And have a Happy Fourth of July, knowing that we will, yet again, soon be free of foreign invaders.

Oysters On A Bed of Seaweed

Not really oysters, not really seaweed. A simulacrum, like the corn. This is one of many kinds of corn fritters, of different styles, that I make. I love them all. Serves 4 as an appetizer or first course.

2 medium ears corn, shucked OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
1 small ear corn, shucked
1 large egg
1 T butter
½ tea Dijon mustard
½ tea salt
freshly ground pepper
4 large scallions

½ tea baking powderOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
½- ¾ cup flour, preferably bread flour

corn oil

Using a small, very sharp knife (I use my beak parer), slit the kernels of the two medium ears lengthwise down the rows, and scrape the milk into a medium bowl; cut the kernels from the smaller ear into the bowl. Melt the butter with the mustard in the microwave; stir into corn with the egg, the salt, and a few twists of the pepper mill.

Trim the outer membrane from the scallions and cut the white parts neatly into 1/8” rounds; add to the corn. Reserve the green tops. Sift the flour and baking powder into the corn mixture, starting with the ½ cup and gradually adding additional flour until it has enough body that it won’t OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         spread in the pan, but is still very moist.

With your sharp knife, cut/slit the scallion greens finely, so that they curl. Blanch for about 30 seconds in boiling water and drain/dry completely. Dress with enough oil to look glossy; if you want to eat it (it’s really just for show), dress it with a light vinaigrette. (You could skip the blanching if you want.) Set aside.

Heat about ¼ inch of oil in a skillet until moderately hot. With a tablespoon from the silverware drawer, drop ovals of batter into the pan. Cook until they are nicely browned, turning once and tipping up on their sides if needed. They will only take a minute or two. Drain briefly, salt, and serve on the bed of scallion greens. These need no adornment, other than a glass of wine. If you serve them as a first course with knife and fork, a little simple tomato coulis would be good.


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