Make no mistake: I truly, madly, deeply adore living in California, most especially for the food. Because of the diversity and temperateness of our climates, we have access to some of the most gorgeous and delicious produce even in the darkest days. But when summer is upon us (and around here, those are dark days indeed), I yearn for two things that in my mind do not stack up to their counterparts back east: Tomatoes and corn.
Mind you, I do rather like the heirloom tomatoes that have become omnipresent at farmers markets and even in the grocery stores out here, but I like them for their aesthetics, for the rainbow of colors and shapes they come in. Not so much for the flavor. Corn I complained about most bitterly in the first few years here. More recently, either the corn has gotten better, or my standards have lowered. At any rate, I've found it at least tolerable of late, though it still does not live up to the memory of the explosively sweet kernels of my youth.
Growing up, corn on the cob was my favorite summer food, bar none. And so I was devastated one year when I managed to lose both my upper front teeth, just at the peak of summer. I would miss out on a whole year of corn! At that age, a whole year was a significant fraction of my life. I thought I might never recover. Eventually, new teeth grew in, and one excrutiatingly long year later I was able once again to chomp down on juicy rows of sweet corn.
Here in California, corn on the cob has many faces. There is of course elote, the Mexican grilled corn on the cob with lime, chili powder and cotija cheese, and one frequently sees it paired with fancy compound butters or what have you. But I prefer it be left simple. Nothing is more pleasing to me than a cob of sweet corn, steamed just to the point of tenderness, slathered in butter and liberally sprinkled with salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Basta.
As for the butter slathering: You must have corn butter. This is the partial or whole stick of butter that you keep around during the summer months expressly for the purpose of dredging hot cobs over. This is more efficient, you see, as it evenly glazes the corn with melted butter, whereas if you try to rub a nob of butter over a cob with a knife, it invariably slide off, leaving more of a puddle of melted butter on the plate than on the corn.
And here's the real secret: Somewhat later in my youth I learned an optimizing technique for eating corn on the cob. Normally, people attack the cob with total abandon, shredding kernels and leaving a big shaggy mess — and a large portion of the kernel still attached to the cob. Moreover, the part that gets mostly left behind is the germ, the most nutritious part of the corn.
First, use your standard corn-eating method and clear a row across the cob. From that point, go one row at a time, hooking the kernels against your bottom teeth, and gently turning the cob toward yourself. The kernels will pop out in their entirety and tumble gently into your waiting maw.
When you're done, you'll be left with a very tidy cob on which you can see the honeycomb-like structure of the rows. You'll also have a belly full of corn, germ and all.
Had I known about this technique earlier, I might have been less distrought the year I lost my two front teeth. However, I think I've made up for it in successive years of corn consumption.
Related: Be sure to check out this week's roundup of Summer Fest 2010: Corn over at San Diego Foodstuff for more corn ideas.