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Dublin: 9 °C Thursday 17 October, 2019
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From the Garden: When it comes to harvesting and eating sweetcorn... timing is everything

There’s something so elementally enjoyable about peeling back a sweetcorn’s skin to find the beautiful shiny yellow kernels underneath, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

THOUGH THE SWEETCORN harvest is never vast in the way that say tomatoes or courgettes are vast, it’s still one of my most favourite moments of the growing year.

This year I sowed six plants and planted them out in the big tunnel. I think the combination of warmth, humidity and good soil fertility there caused the plants to grow taller than normal (up to around 8ft), but all that plant growth seemed to be at the expense of fruiting. I had just one or two cobs per plant.

Still, there’s something so elementally enjoyable about peeling back the skin to find the beautiful shiny yellow kernels underneath.

As always timing is everything when it comes to harvesting and eating sweetcorn – you are trying to catch the cobs when they are ripe and before the sugars start to turn to starch.

The classic test is to pierce some of the little kernels and judge the liquid that comes out. Too watery and it means the corn is not quite ripe, too viscous and it’s gone too far. With regular checking you should be able to harvest the cobs at peak freshness.

I’ve always said (half-joking) that you should have a pot of water on the boil and run from the veg patch to the kitchen with your corn to make sure you cook it immediately and get that absolute peak freshness experience. You will never taste anything quite like it.

Years ago, when giving talks on growing I used to bring a pack of two vacuum packed sweetcorn with me to show the contrast with the immediacy of fresh, home-grown sweetcorn.

The vac-packed corn simply refused to die as I went from talk to talk, entombed as it was in plastic. The best-before date was about six months away when I started bringing it to talks and it had passed by another 6 months when I finally had to throw it out. Goes without saying it wouldn’t taste great by comparison.

Even though sweetcorn is a slightly incidental crop for me, it’s worth reminding yourself that it is one of the top three crops grown in the world – with wheat and rice it accounts for 60% of all calories consumed by humans globally.

For all that only about 1% of the corn produced around the world is eaten as the whole grain – the rest is used as animal feed, as fuel (ethanol) or as a starch food additive or sweetener.

It’s strange that something so fundamentally healthful (whole grain corn is a rich source of vitamins and minerals) has played such a large role in creating ill-health globally in the form of corn syrups.

The Basics – Harvest

Be like a squirrel and stock up the larder for the winter. It’s incredibly satisfying to have a store of vegetables in the shed to see you through the cold, winter months. Crops for storage should be harvested when they are young, in prime condition and full of flavour. Vegetables and fruit are best gathered early in the day.

Store root crops like carrots and beetroot in boxes in a ventilated shed or outhouse. Place the roots in layers with slightly dampened peat or sand around them. You can store potatoes in paper or hessian sacks in a dark, frost-free, ventilated store, ensuring first that the skins are completely dry.

Onions and garlic also need frost-free storage, but in order to prevent them from sprouting they must not be kept in a dark place. Once dried and ripened, hang them in nylon or string netting bags, or string them up by twisting their stems around a length of thick string.

Recipe of the Week – Sweetcorn Fritters with Tamarind and Chipotle Yoghurt

Katie Sanderson, our resident chef on Grow, Cook, Eat, cooked up this delicious recipe in the sweetcorn episode in series two. It’s a great way to turn two cobs of sweetcorn in to a full dish, though of course just slathering the cobs in butter to eat as a starter is acceptable too!

Ingredients:

  • 2 Sweetcorn cobs (300g kernels)
  • ½ Red onion, chopped into tiny dice
  • 2 Spring onions, chopped greens and all
  • Coriander – small handful chopped roughly
  • 2 Tablespoons Flour
  • 2 Tablespoons Cornflour
  • Chipotle 1 jar
  • Water 130 ml
  • Tamarind 2 tablespoons
  • Lime, cut up for garnish

 Directions:

Place some water in a pot that can fit your corn cobs and bring to the boil. Add a pinch of salt, then the sweetcorn and cook for a few minutes.

Drain and cool, using a sharp knife take the kernels off the cob trying to take off big strips intact. Place the Kernels in a bowl, add the onion, spring onion and some chopped coriander. Weigh out 300g and keep the rest aside.

Add the flours, water and seasoning to your larger amount of kernels and mix trying to not break up the big chunks but incorporating the flour. Your mixture should look like thin pancake batter.

Next make the sauce. Add the tin of chipotle, the water and the tamarind to a high speed blender and whizz till smooth and creamy.

This can be kept in the fridge for up to two months if you love heat you could use this as your dipping sauce but to make it a little cooler you can mix equal amounts of a full fat good quality yoghurt/plant based yoghurt and the chipotle together. Place in a small serving bowl and turn your attention to finishing the sweetcorn.

Place a frying pan on a medium heat with a thin layer of sunflower oil. Add spoonfuls of the sweet-corn mixture, wait till its crusted on one side and then flip. Push the back of the spoon down on the fritter to push out any raw batter and cover with some frying oil.

Get some paper towel ready and spoon out the fritters. Let rest on the paper then place on a plate, sprinkle the leftover sweet corn, onion mix and serve the chipotle yoghurt alongside.

Michael Kelly is an author, broadcaster and founder of GIY.

© GIY Ireland 2019 – all rights reserved. 

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Michael Kelly  / Grower

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