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Nibbling on ears is the sweetest part of summertime


Say hallelujah and pass the butter! The sweet corn has arrived.

I had a couple ears of corn Sunday that were so sweet that eating them had me curling my toes with delight. There I was, barefoot in the the kitchen, attacking two pieces of sweet corn. I was in such a frenzy, the corn cobs moved like the carriages of a typewriter -- left, right, return.

All I knew about the corn was that the kernels were white and it was delicious. But after talking with Ronald Sewell, the Taneytown farmer who grew the corn, and with a couple other farmers -- John Selby in Centreville and Pam Pahl in Woodstock -- I got a quick education on the sweet corn scene.

The good news is that not only has the sweet corn landed, it has arrived by the truckload. For the next two weeks we could be up to our ears in ears. This is not the way the farmers planned it. They would prefer that the corn crop ripens in a more orderly fashion. But Mother Nature apparently had other ideas. The cool and quirky spring weather played havoc with farmers' planting schemes.

Back in the spring, some corn plants popped out of the ground, and just stood still. Other fields had to be replanted. So now, after weeks of sunshine and thunder showers, these crops are ripening at the same time. "For the next 10 days or so the supply will probably be abundant, then it will level off again," said Sewell who farms in Carroll and Frederick counties.

Over on Maryland's Eastern Shore, Selby agreed the early sweet corn crop looked good. But he reminded me that the cool weather of May was followed by blistering heat in June. The part of the corn crop that was scheduled to sprout during those "dust-bowl days of June," could have an uneven yield, he said. That part of the crop should come to market in August, he said.

Speaking to me on a car phone as he bounced along Route 50, Selby, 77, said this summer was "the hottest one I can remember. Other years it got hot in July. This year it started in June," he said.

The extended hot weather kept Pam Pahl and her husband, Les, busy irrigating the couple's farm in western Baltimore County. Their corn crop is in good shape but has attracted unwanted consumers. "The deer love it," said Mrs. Pahl. "The corn is green, everything else is dry, so the deer come into those cornfields and do some damage."

The other thing I learned about the sweet corn scene, is that all white corn is not the same. Fans of certain varieties of white sweet corn ask for them by name, the way some wine drinkers request vintages of their favorite Chardonnay.

As I understand it, the breakdown of white sweet corns goes something like this: First is the Silver Queen, a traditional variety. Fans say, that it is sweet yet still tastes like corn. The drawback to Silver Queen is that it loses much of its flavor a day or two after it has been picked.

Next are the very sweet varieties, which feature weird spellings -- one is SsuperSweet -- and higher sugar contents. Fans of these corns like their sugary flavor and their longer shelf life, saying they hold their flavor for 3 to 5 days after picking. But some eaters contend the flavor is not corny enough, and that the kernels are chewy.

Finally there are varieties called "sugar-enhanced" which try to strike a middle ground between Silver Queen and the super-sweet corns. Fans say the "sugar-enhanced" varieties are sweet but still taste like corn. The drawback of the sugar-enhanced varieties is that they have a shorter shelf life than the sweetened varieties.

The corn that curled my toes was a sugar-enhanced type. At my insistence, Sewell gave me other information about the corn's pedigree: it is an Abbott and Cobb, a 73W, of the Summer-flavor group. I also found out where I can buy more. In addition to the truck in Taneytown, at Route 140 and East Baltimore Street, Sewell sold the corn in Westminster, from a truck parked on Gorsuch Road behind Crouse Ford.

So I plan to conduct a summer-long taste test of white corn. I'll try some sugar-enhanced from Sewell, I get some Silver Queen and super-sweet types from the Pahl's stand at Baltimore's Sunday morning Farmer's Market. When I go the Eastern Shore, I'll swing by Farmer John's stand off Route 50 and try Selby's corn.

Who knows if I will come to a conclusion. But I am looking forward to the research.

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