As High as What on the Fourth of Ju-When?
June 28, 2004

I mentioned a few updates ago that I looked high and low for some special corn from Brentwood at the Saturday Farmers Market but came to grief when I didn't find a single ear. I got a few emails from people cheering me on about how great the corn was and how I really needed to grab some at my next possible convenience. Yeees....but see, the problem was that I couldn't find it, people!

I was scrubbing sleep from my eyes at an insanely early hour on Saturday morning when I checked my email before slogging off to work. Another email about corn. This one was asking me to confirm the Nero Wolfe way of making corn as cited by me on several occasions and originally found in Murder is Corny. That was it. I had had enough. I'm only one relatively average height woman -- I CAN'T RESIST THE CORN!

On my break, I ignored my aching feet, back, and stomach and sprinted all over the market frantically bagging peaches, nectarines, Sungold tomatoes, and apricots before I finally saw some telltale silk peeking around the corner of a stand. This was the stand my fellow cheesemonger had told me about -- not the Brentwood stand, you understand -- so I grabbed a bag and started stuffing. Why was I being so frantic with the running and the bagging and the stuffing? It was near the end of market day and the farmers were starting to pack up. Four ears of corn later, I actually managed to sit down in order to drink my lunch of fully-charged Blue Bottle New Orleans-style iced coffee.

Suddenly, I had this weird compulsion to turn around and look past the pepper roasting guy and I saw THE BRENTWOOD CORN GUY! He was selling his stuff off at four ears for a dollar! I rearranged my bags so they were no longer cutting off circulation in my right hand and I picked up four ears.

As soon as I got home, I trimmed the corn slightly -- keeping the husks on -- wrapped them in damp paper towels and threw them in the fridge. The paper towels thing is a little secret I learned from Alice Waters' Vegetables book. I kept two out because Dr. Mathra and I had to eat something of what was picked that day.

Although I've definitely roasted corn in a very hot oven before, for some reason I never had the courage to actually crank the oven up to 525 for the full forty minutes Nero bellowed about. At 475, the husks turned black and the silk got singed and smoking and I always got nervous and pulled them out early.

Not this time. The oven reached the desired 525 and in the two ears went. The apartment was filled with a smoky vegetal smell that reminded me of Girl Scout camp outs. Back then we filled Reynolds wrap packets with beef and corn and potatoes, threw them on the campfire and opened up our dinners some time later.

Forty minutes later, Dr. Mathra and I risked burned fingers as we quickly husked the blackened corn. It turned out that it was really only the outer layer of husks that got burned; the inner husks were still yellow-green and much hotter than the exterior. Steam rose and gave us corn facials the closer we got to the white kernels. Finally, the corn was naked and ready for a light dressing of butter and salt.

We bit in. Perfection in corn had never been mine until this moment. The hot oven, the steamy husks, and the charred husks toasted the corn yet kept it moist and juicy. It tasted, as Nero said, like ambrosia. I've never tasted corn like this.

We finished off our ears, looked at each other, and turned the oven back on. We had to have two more ears. These were yellow and came from the first stand but they were nothing short of terribly, terribly delicious.

Tonight we had the other four. I don't see an end to this gluttony until all the corn in California runs out.

I was surprised that so many people were going on and on about the corn at the tail end of June, because being from the Midwest, I had grown up believing The Adage. They do things differently in California. The fourth of July is a week away and we've already had eight perfect ears of corn.

By chance, we have discovered some new beer (when I say "new" I mean, "new to us," you understand) that went perfectly with our corn. It's made by New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado. They're the same outfit who makes Fat Tire -- an Amber ale we love -- but the new brews we've discovered are Abbey Belgian Style Ale and 1554 Brussels Style Black Ale. The Abbey is mahogany and caramelly and the 1554 is dark, chocolatey, and deeply intense, and for some reason, both of them were perfect foils to the buttery, salty corn.

From Rex Stout's Murder is Corny:

Wolfe: It must be nearly mature, but not quite, and it must be picked not more than three hours before it reaches me. Do you eat sweet corn?

Cramer: Yes. You're stalling.

Wolfe: No. Who cooks it?

Cramer: My wife. I haven't got a Fritz.

Wolfe: Does she cook it in water?

Cramer: Sure. Is yours cooked in beer?

Wolfe: No. Millions of American women, and some men, commit that outrage every summer day. They are turning a superb treat into mere provender. Shucked and boiled in water, sweet corn is edible and nutritious; roasted in husk in the hottest possible oven for forty minutes, shucked at the table, and buttered and salted, nothing else, it is ambrosia. No chef's ingenuity and imagination have ever created a finer dish. American women should themselves be boiled in water.

I concur.

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