As one of the tastes of summer, fresh corn has a pretty good shelf life.
Strawberries can be here and gone before some people know they are even ready. Cotton candy doesn’t keep if you don’t eat it all at a carnival. That root beer float you don’t finish just isn’t the same the next day if you stick it in the freezer.
Corn, on the other hand, is around for so long that getting beyond simple corn on the cob is one way to ensure that summer flavors continue for as long as possible. With a season that is roughly bookended by Fourth of July and Labor Day, there are plenty of ways to take advantage of sweet corn well after the eagerly awaited vegetable comes to the market.
“Corn is so versatile, it just adds such sweetness to anything,” said Pat Mulvey, owner of Local Thyme, a seasonal menu planning service that specializes in utilizing local ingredients from markets or CSA boxes.
Once the thrill of that first corn on the cob passes, there are still many weeks left to the season. That’s when corn lovers get creative.
Scott Alsum of Alsum Sweet Corn in Randolph said he loves to find out from customers what they do with the corn they buy from his stand at the Dane County Farmers’ Market and the Westside Community Market.
“People are getting creative with their food, they’re always trying new things,” he said. “I’ll have them email me recipes and I’ll put them on our website.”
Mary Sue Oppermann of Stoneman’s Famous Sweet Corn in Fitchburg said her family’s business also enjoys getting and collecting recipes from customers.
“We always say we’ve got to do a recipe book,” she said.
Stoneman’s will also give out some recipes the family has on hand, including how to freeze corn for the rest of the year, a salad and a salsa created by Oppermann’s daughter, Kayla Droese, that’s a family favorite.
“We could eat that all day long,” Oppermann said.
For all the recipes out there, a family favorite for Alsum is to just brown hamburger, season it, add cooked sweet corn and cooked or leftover noodles or pasta, and add a tomato sauce of some sort – spaghetti sauce or salsa – and bake it. It’s a recipe the family calls spaghetti corn hot dish.
“We can’t make enough of it,” Alsum said. “Put a spicy cheese bread from Stella’s (Bakery) on the side and that’s killer.”
Another simple way to keep using corn is just to add it to cornbread.
John Johnson, a culinary arts instructor at Madison Area Technical College, said fresh corn improves a simple way of making it.
“I’ll just buy a box of Jiffy cornbread mix and throw fresh corn in there,” Johnson said. “Oh my goodness that’s good, but if you add too much – it’s even better.”
Mulvey also adds a cup of fresh kernels to her cornbread recipe, one of a variety of ways to use the corn throughout the season. Through her business, Mulvey offers 80 corn recipes. The beauty of corn, she said, is how well it complements other things that are in season, particularly the peppers that counter the sweetness with their heat.
“They come into season at the same time, that’s an indication that they go well together,” she said.
Mulvey will use many seasonal vegetables and herbs with her corn recipes. One of her most requested recipes, through her current business and time as a personal chef, is Santa Fe shrimp salad, which includes fresh corn, hot and bell peppers, zucchini or summer squash and cilantro.
Another recipe she developed, edamame succotash, includes bell peppers, zucchini and tomatoes.
Fresh corn gets the creativity going at restaurants, too. When a corn stand opened right in front of Manna Café and Bakery on Madison’s East Side, kitchen manager Carrie Carlson said the ideas started flowing. The café uses corn as a colorful addition to its chicken chimichurri, as a corn salsa, as well as using it in quiches or finding ways to combine it with creamed corn.
“It’s cool to play around with,” Carlson said. “We’ll play around with soup recipes, too.”
In recent years, corn has found a partner with another traditional summer food – ice cream. Kelley’s Country Creamery near Fond du Lac makes a sweet corn ice cream in the summer, and currently has it on the menu again.
Owner Karen Kelley sees the item as a novelty, like the creamery’s other flavors such as maple bacon or blue cheese-pear. There are kernels within the ice cream, and it has a sugary, buttery taste.
“People will get a sample and say, ‘You’re right. It tastes like corn,’” Kelley said. “Sometimes they’ll get some, other times they’ll say, ‘Oh, I’ll stick with my butter pecan.’”
Alsum’s corn is made into gelato in Brookfield by La Coppa Gelato, which has a store on State Street. He sells it at the winter farmers’ market.
“It blows people’s minds, til you get them to taste it,” said Alsum, who also sells a salted caramel corn gelato in the winter. “Then they say, ‘Oh, yeah … ’”
At L’Etoile, pastry chef Melinda Dorn occasionally makes a sweet corn-maple frozen custard, said chef/owner Tory Miller. Miller added that market demand for extremely sweet corn has chefs adapting their menus and dishes.
Alsum agreed, saying he’s trying to meet customers’ preference for very sweet corn. If they don’t like it that sweet, he’ll suggest the white corn that he sells.
“I plant the sweetest stuff I can find,” he said. “I had one guy say he doesn’t really like it that sweet. I said, ‘That’s fine, my clients do.’”
The unofficial end to summer might be Labor Day, but that doesn’t mean sweet corn season is over. Many growers stagger their planting and keep it growing past then. That’s why a few extra recipes beyond corn on the cob come in handy, particularly when people want that last gasp of the summer vegetables.
“By the middle of October, corn’s a big deal again because nobody’s got it,” Alsum said.