Food & Drink

Summer staple: How to choose, cook and preserve the newest corn varieties

Spoon bread is a longtime Southern favorite. This green chile-cheese-corn version gets a double hit of corn flavor from cornmeal and fresh corn kernels. (Shannon Kinsella/food styling) (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
Spoon bread is a longtime Southern favorite. This green chile-cheese-corn version gets a double hit of corn flavor from cornmeal and fresh corn kernels. (Shannon Kinsella/food styling) (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/TNS)
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Finding sweet corn at a roadside stand or farmers market is one of the best treats of summer. Every year, growers try new hybrid varieties to tempt their shoppers to buy more.

This year, you might see sweet corn with unfamiliar names:

• Temptress: Promises exceptionally tender kernels and great sweet corn flavor.

• Supersweet Jubilee: Sometimes said to be the best-tasting supersweet variety available.

• Gotta Have It: A Gurney’s hybrid that is fantastic for freezing (and we have tips for that).

• Kate: A new bicolor supersweet that also boasts excellent eating quality.

• Super Surprise: Another bicolor sweet corn that does well at farmers markets and roadside stands.

• Caliber: Best for eating fresh with superb flavor.

I look hard for older, sometimes heirloom varieties of corn, like Country Gentleman, Golden Bantam and the venerable Trucker’s Delight. But they are the very devil to find.

As Americans have cultivated palates that prefer sugar over all other flavors, farmers find their customers prefer the supersweet and sugary-enhanced varieties. These hybrids, conventionally bred so their sugars are high and take longer to convert into starch, hold and ship better, too. They are not genetically engineered.

Some new varieties, however, have been bred to allow the use of Roundup and other pesticides. If the grower tells you the name of the variety is some combination of letters and numbers, that’s probably the case. Ask the grower if you can.

Some varieties are better for freezing and canning than others. Gotta Have It freezes well, but Temptress, bred to have tender kernels with thin skins, may turn mushy after freezing. Again, ask the grower if you can.

HOW TO FREEZE

Freezing corn is the easiest way to preserve it. It may be frozen as whole ears, in the husks, without blanching. After freezing, cook it, still in the husks, in the microwave for 3 to 4 minutes on high. Let it cool a bit before shucking. If you prefer to freeze it on the cob without the husks, blanch medium-size ears for 7 to 8 minutes and cool immediately in an ice-water bath. Then freeze.

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Blanch kernels cut from the ears, too; blanch the whole ears for about 4 minutes, cool immediately, then cut the kernels from the ears. If you tumble the kernels onto a rimmed backing sheet and freeze before packing in zip-close bags, you’ll find it easier to portion out the frozen corn later.

HOW TO CAN

Canning corn must be done in a pressure canner for food safety reasons (the exceptions are vinegary relishes such as the one we offer here). Pints need to process for 55 minutes; quarts for 85 minutes. It’s best to consult a canning resource such as the National Center for Home Food Preservation (nchfp.uga.edu) for specifics. Note that supersweet and sugary-enhanced varieties may brown a little from the caramelization of their sugars in the canner.

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