August 31, 2005
Eating Local in August

Here we are at the end of the month of August, and I am sad to say that I have not really been able to fully participate in the Eat Local Challenge. I am in love with the idea, not just for the month of August but as a lifetime philosophy. It's good for the environment, it's good for the small producers, it's good for your tastebuds. However, local in the month of August was an ever-changning status for me and the Critics. (Yes, now that the little one has joined the ranks of fruit and vegetable eaters he too qualifies as a mini-Critic.) When you are travelling, it's sometimes difficult to insist that your food be locally produced. Sometimes it's more convenient to just go with the flow and eat what's being offered by your generous and loving family.

And sometimes, when you are lucky, it's locally grown and the best you will ever taste anywhere in the world. Like locally grown Illinois sweet corn. Just look at that photo. Can you imagine how sweet and delicate those little kernals are going to be? Four or five minutes in boiling water, no need to add salt or sugar as these sweethearts are perfect as they are. You can eat them straight out of the pot or (if you really want to be luxurious) you can butter them. But you don't really need it. They are perfect the way they are.

The corn pictured here was bought from the farm stand run by the Klein family in Elgin, IL. They sell produce from their own local farm as well as fruit from farms further downstate. Generally speaking, though, it is all locally grown and fantastically tasty. My niece, who worked there part time over the summer, told me that they dump the corn when it is more than two days old. (She said that she knows a family in the neighborhood that regularly "dumpster-dives" for free corn behind the stand...)

Let's compare this with the corn we can get in Paris. The best I could find last summer came from Israel. It was husked, wrapped in plastic and sent by plane to Paris, where it lingered on a shelf until it was sold. Judging by some of the corn I've seen in Paris, it can be a couple of weeks before the store finally gives up on selling the stuff and tosses it. It takes a good 20 minutes to cook, because the kernals are tough and old. And this is the good sweet corn.


A while back I was sent a link to the "corn cam", where homesick midwesterners could - literally - watch the corn grow. Sad, yes. But the comments on the page were a tribute to the fact that there are a lot of us corn-lovers out there, sadly reciting "knee-high-by-the-fourth-of-July" and mourning each corn-less August. And so I am always happy when I can be in the US at the end of the summer. Even if it does mean I have to hop on a gas-guzzling airplane to get there. Sigh.

I have been living in Paris for about a dozen years now. I tried to grow corn on my terrace but the seeds did not sprout. I tried giving packets of seeds to every friend in Europe with a patch of land large enough to grow it. None of them have obliged by planting them and giving me a few precious ears in recognition of the great gift I offered them.

Maybe some day a French farmer will read this post and think "There must be a lot of homesick Americans in Paris who would pay a lot of money for decent sweet corn. I should get some tasty varieties and start selling them to local markets. I could explain to the sellers that they must not shuck the corn as they do not keep well once they lose their leaves. I could make a fortune."

Yeah, right.

A note on the variety: It is not a tribute to the training my niece received when she started at Klein's that when I asked what this variety was called she shrugged her shoulders and said "I dunno...most people just say bi-colored or two-colored..." My mother told me she was fairly sure it was called "peaches and cream". I am open to confirmation or edification on the point!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at August 31, 2005 1:34 PM | TrackBack Print-friendly version

Dear Meg:

I hate you!

Just kidding, but I am so-o-o-o jealous that you had such sweet, yummy corn, and are torturing me (and the rest of us Americans in Paris) with that photo and description.

I've bought corn in Chinatown here, which is ok, but Romain bought two ears of cryvac'd corn-on-the-cob, which were cooked to a mush so vile that even a starving pig (or supermodel) wouldn't eat them! I tried though...

In Connecticut, where I grew up, we called yellow & white corn "Butter and Sugar" corn. I don't know if that's the official title, but that's certainly what I remember it tasting like.

Posted by David on August 31, 2005 at 10:24 AM

I can't claim to have the same emotional relationship to sweetcorn as you do (I'm from London, where you don't exactly have sweetcorn stands on every corner), but I was absolutely thrilled last week to discover squeaky fresh corn still in the husk, not a whisper of plastic wrapping and I assume locally grown, in a terrific produce store not too far from Paris called the Jardins du Mesnil, in Le Mesnil le Roi, in the Yvelines. It's a little far to go just to buy corn I realise, but just so you know, some farmer somewhere is saving the corn for human beings, rather than tossing it straight to the animals. We barbecued them in the husk, and it was a treat.

Posted by Natasha on September 1, 2005 at 5:58 AM

PS I'll grow corn for you if you bring me back some seeds!

Posted by Natasha on September 1, 2005 at 6:02 AM

Natasha, it's a deal! And thanks for the tip - I may just have to trek out your way this weekend!

Posted by Meg in Paris on September 1, 2005 at 7:33 AM

I, too, was surprised to find corn in the store last week out here in the Western Burbs. I was sceptical so I peeled back the leaves on each ear to check before buying. The corn did take longer to cook, just like you said. This ain't no sweet Alabama corn like we get there in early summer! But, 'twas corn nevertheless and it was pretty good.

The funny part was the check-out girl just stared at the cobs in the bag and said, "What IS this?" The she had to hunt for a good 3 minutes to find the veggie code to ring them up. When I got home I discovered that she has charged me 2.95 Euros per cob instead of just 70 cents each. That makes for some expensive, mediocre corn but still a pleaure in Paris.

By the way, you can go out to one of the U Pick It farms around Paris (Ferme de Gally in the west) and pick your own corn in late fall.


Posted by ginparis on September 1, 2005 at 8:39 AM

Geni, I've heard of the Ferme de Gally and have been meaning to check it out. Now that I know they have corn I might just have to finally get round to it!

Posted by Meg in Paris on September 2, 2005 at 2:16 AM

'Peaches and Cream' (single quote marks) is a specific named variety of bi-color sweet corn.

I love corn too so I understand your grief. I am a packet seed sales rep in Califorinia; I always have lots of outdated seed this time of year and I'd be glad to send you some seed to plant or give to another urban farmer. Just bear in mind that corn needs to be planted in plots of at least 4 feet by 4 feet so as to get good pollination. Usually wind carries pollen from one stalk to another, so plant in blocks, not long single rows.

Let me know if you'd like some seed, and what type: yellow, white or bicolor. I don't want to advertise, so I won't list our brand, but it is very high-germination rate seed. (It is possible you had gotten hold of some poor seed).

good luck--corn (planting)season is just 6 months away!

ps THANKS for putting that ADVERTISING POLICY in red! I almost didn't see it....

Posted by sue on November 19, 2005 at 4:13 PM
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