BY Jessica Haywood

Crazy about corn? No matter where you are you’re bound to hear “our corn is the best corn ” and get a recipe to back it up. Maybe you’re not a fanatic about corn or maybe you are and just don’t know it. By-products of corn are used to make cereal soda cake peanut butter candy chips taco shells and dozens and dozens of other foods. Non-food items such as medicine cosmetics latex paint clothes textbooks soaps textiles and toothpaste include corn derivatives as well. Additionally new uses of corn are being invented even as you read this. They don’t call it amazing maize for nothing.

Archaeologists generally agree that corn was cultivated in Mexico at least 7 000 years ago and brought north by natives approximately 5 000 years ago. Native American tribes have stories about the origin of corn that have been passed down for many generations but most scientists believe it began with a wild grass called teosinte. This ancient plant contained small kernels that weren’t merged together like modern-day corn. Why is this relevant? Because corn doesn’t exist naturally. That sweet buttered ear on your plate wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for humans cultivating it. Think about that at your next barbecue — if you can tear yourself away from your corn.

Over the years people all over the world have cultivated corn into many varieties. In the United States three major types of corn are grown. Grain corn used in many food products and also used as livestock feed is grown annually on about 60 million acres; popcorn is grown on approximately 200 000 acres; and sweet corn the ears we love is grown on 650 000 acres.

David Barkley horticultural agent for Brunswick County Cooperative Extension and former New Hanover County horticultural agent says “There are new varieties of sweet corn with a gene that enhances the corn’s sweetness. In the past everyone bought Silver Queen corn. I grew up on it but now with the new improved varieties of corn Silver Queen really isn’t as good. Newer varieties retain their sweetness longer.” Some of the gene-enhanced sweeter brands are: Summer Sweet Sweet Ice Snow White Silver King Bodacious and Summer Sweet Yellow.

Corn is planted between April and September and takes up to 180 days from seeding to mature. Thankfully though we don’t have to wait that long for corn. It’s available any time. Maize is already the largest crop in the world but due to the demand for ethanol the number of acres of corn being planted is increasing rapidly at least for now. The United States is by far the country with the biggest stake in the global corn trade. In 2006 it produced 44 percent of the world’s corn and 68 percent of global exports.

When settlers first came to North Carolina they found corn being grown throughout the entire state. Recently N.C. has ranked between 15th and 18th nationally in the production of grain corn. The coastal region plays an important part by producing a large percentage of our corn. New Hanover County produced 600 acres of grain corn in 2006 while Brunswick County produced 5 350 acres and Pender County produced 12 300 acres.

So why all the fuss? First of all the USDA recommends 2.5 cups of vegetables per day. Fat-free cholesterol-free low-calorie corn fits that bill as well as any other veggie. Plus it’s a high-carbohydrate vegetable so it helps produce energy. And if getting your energy from the little yellow kernels isn’t your thing maybe heating your home and saving money is. Several varieties of corn stoves corn grills and corn furnaces — which use shelled and dried corn kernels for fuel — are on the market. Finally kids love corn. Make them a sandbox filled with corn kernels or take them to walk in a maize maze. Who knew a vegetable could be this much fun?

To find fresh locally grown corn visit our area’s farmers’ markets. To grow some yourself contact the New Hanover County Cooperative Extension office at (910) 798-7660.


Corn and Spinach Salad with Honey-Lime Dressing

From the kitchen of Teresa Kramer

1/4 cup lime juice
1 tablespoon jalapeno jelly
1 tablespoon local honey
1/3 cup fresh cilantro
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups fresh corn kernels
11/2 cups spinach leaves stems removed
2 medium tomatoes seeded and chopped

In a large bowl combine the lime juice honey and jalapeno jelly and mix well. Stir in the cilantro and salt. Add the corn spinach and tomatoes to the honey-lime mixture. Toss until well-coated and serve immediately. Serves 8.

No fresh corn on hand?

2 medium ears of corn equals approximately 1 cup of corn kernels. If you’re getting corny out of season feel free to substitute a like amount of frozen corn kernels thawed.

Corn Fritters

from the kitchen of Stefanie Silva

2 eggs
1 cup fresh corn kernels cooked and cooled
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Beat the eggs lightly and add the corn. Sift the flour sugar baking powder and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the egg and corn mixture. Mix well and drop by spoonfuls in a hot greased pan and fry. Remove when nicely browned drain on paper towels. Serves 10-12.

Roasted Corn Summer Salad

from the kitchen of Katie Godwin

This is a fresh and easy way to celebrate summer! It can be served as a main dish for lunch or an accompaniment to fish fresh off the grill for dinner.

4 ears fresh corn
1 small bag baby red potatoes
1 small red onion quartered & thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh basil roughly chopped
1 pint cherry tomatoes halved
1 pound lobster or crabmeat
2 lemons
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Run ears of corn under water and then place in Pyrex dish. Place in 400-degree oven for 40 minutes. Remove and let cool. Boil whole baby red potatoes for 15 minutes or until fork-tender and then let cool. Shuck ears of corn and then cut the corn kernels off the ears into a bowl. Quarter the baby red potatoes and put into the same bowl. Add lobster or crab thinly sliced red onion halved cherry tomatoes and roughly chopped fresh basil. Whisk together the juice of two lemons (no seed please!) and the olive oil. Pour over mixture and toss lightly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serves 6.

Corn Macque Choux

from the kitchen of Wade S. Toth

“A favorite of mine from when I lived in New Orleans.”

1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced bell pepper
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
11/2 teaspoons flour
31/2 cups fresh corn kernels cooked and cooled
11/4 cup Rotel Tomatoes & Green Chilies (mild or hot as desired)
Cream or evaporated milk optional

Heat the butter and add the onions bell pepper and garlic. Stir until vegetables are soft. Add the flour and the corn and mix well. Add the Rotel Tomatoes & Green Chilies and mix well. Fold in the basil. Add the cream or evaporated milk for a creamier taste and look. Serves 4-6.

Mint Corn Salad

from the kitchen of Leslie Nance

1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
16 ounces fresh corn kernels cooked and cooled
1 cucumber peeled seeded and diced
3/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/4 cup diced sun-dried tomatoes

 In a large bowl stir together the sugar and vinegar until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the corn cucumber mint and sun-dried tomatoes. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour before serving. Serves 6-8.