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."
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!