While growing up in southern Indiana, I was told that the summer could be so dry and hot that “you could hear the corn grow.”
I never heard the corn grow, but I sure did see plenty of it around me. It’s an indelible memory that was imprinted on me summer after summer, year after year.
As sure as the daylight hours got longer, and weather warmer, the grilling started in earnest. The summer staple was corn on the cob.
The fresh ears were purchased from a local produce market. Before terms such as “going local” and “downtown farmers market” were coined, we shopped at Bush’s Family Market. It was on a highway outside of town, surrounded by fields farmed by the Bush family.
The owner, named “Horse Fly,” wore denim overalls. He would heartily greet all visitors. Happy to help his customers, Horse Fly would thump the melons to see if they were ripe. From a child’s point of view, Horse Fly’s magical melon-thumping seemed mysterious and somehow connected to a native spirit. I was convinced his power came from the arrowhead collection that adorned the market’s walls.
Horse Fly was a walking encyclopedia when it came to his produce and he was quick to share this information. The mix of colorful and sometimes unusual produce coming off his truck fresh from the field was unlike anything we’d see in the grocery store.
Purchasing field-fresh corn by the ear would begin by tearing back the silk and husk. Like a jewel, each piece was closely inspected. Each ear has an even number of rows of kernels. If it made the grade, the field fresh produce would be plopped in a brown paper bag for the short trip home. The fresh, earthy scent filled the car with rich fragrance. The bagged ears of corn sat on my lap and melons rolled beneath my feet on the ride home.
Shucking the corn to remove the husks was easy. Extracting the silk required patience and fine motor skills. There was a lot of silk – one strand for every kernel. But we knew a delicious treat was coming, so the task of picking clean each ear was well worth the labor.
The stripped ears would be placed on the stove in the deepest pot from the kitchen. After the water came to a full boil, the ears were dropped in, one by one. Soon, the kernels turned bright yellow, signaling that the corn was nearly done. In minutes, each ear would be extracted with tongs and placed in its own oblong green dish filled with melted sweet butter. Yellow plastic corn holders inserted in the ears at either end made it easier to hold the steamy cobs.
The family would be called from the yard and everyone took a seat at a table on the porch. There was no escaping the heat on these fun evenings. The low summer sun was either in your eyes or beating down on your back. The steady whir of the ceiling fan blades overhead kept the air moving and provided some relief.
Without delay, the delicious corn would be devoured first. The first bite of the creamy, crunchy sweet kernels was so satisfying. Each golden ear was eaten vigorously from beginning to end. Hamburgers, chicken, hot dogs, vegetables and lesser foods all took a back seat to King Corn.
Many years later, I fondly recall the car ride to the country market, the mix of scents, preparation, color and taste of fresh corn on the cob. It’s the food of summer that found its way into the heart of this Hoosier, where it remains today.
Written by Chuck Boll (a native Hoosier). Chuck Boll is a seasoned HR executive and Community Advocate in Columbus, Ind.
Chuck’s favorite meal includes fresh lean hamburger, field fresh tomatoes, onion slices, basil leaves, mozzarella cheese, vinaigrette dressing and fresh corn on the cob. An added treat for desert is ice-cold watermelon or a Jackson County melon.
Chuck continues hunting for the family corn holders of his childhood. He is convinced that, as with the spirits surrounding Indian arrowheads, the corn holders enhanced his childhood experience. He wants to pass them along to his daughter.