Sweet summer corn evokes memories of barbeques, picnics, hot summer days, lazy evenings, the sounds of children at play, and, of course, Fourth of July celebrations. Corn, a long grain plant, has been popular as a food source since it was domesticated about 10,000 years ago by indigenous peoples in Mexico. There are six main types of corn, including dent corn, flint corn, pod corn, popcorn, flour corn, and the ubiquitous sweet corn.
The sugar-rich varieties of sweet corn are what we are mostly used to eating here in modern-day America, with the high sugar content coming from a naturally recessive mutation in the genes that control the conversion of sugar to starch. Sweet corn is also picked when immature, which prohibits the conversion of sugar to starch that happens with maturation, and can therefore be eaten as a vegetable rather than a grain. Sweet corn must be eaten fresh quickly, or else frozen or canned, so that it will not become tough and starchy.
Here in the US, several Native American tribes cultivated sweet corn, and the Iroquois gave the first recorded sweet corn to European settlers in 1779. As sweet corn grew in popularity, cultivars became widely available in the US in the mid-19th century. By the 20th century, hybridization and genetic identification of the specific genes responsible for the sweetness of corn allowed for more uniform, sweet, and hearty varieties to be developed. There are now hundreds of cultivars of sweet corn available in the US.
In Sacramento, we are lucky to have a number of local farms that grow many varieties of sweet corn available at the farms, at farmers markets, and at local grocery stores. At The Kitchen, one of our very favorite farms happens to be Perry Farms of Natomas, where they grow fabulous corn, squash, tomatoes, peppers, and more. We’ve been getting sweet yellow corn from proprietor John Perry for well over 15 years now. It’s become a family tradition to visit his land during the harvest season, when we can take the kids to play and make our annual pumpkin patch trip for Halloween.
As Kitchen Chef/Owner Randall Selland describes it, he and his wife, fellow Chef Nancy Zimmer started taking their own kids to the farm and pumpkin patch some 30 years ago. They then began taking their now-teenage grandkids there when they were young. Now everyone goes, including the littlest grandkids, who are 6 and 1, to Perry Farms to select their pumpkins each year.
Chef Selland says Perry Farms has the sweetest, plumpest corn you can find, and we’ve historically used it at The Kitchen in summer classics like our Sweet Corn and Lobster Chowder. We also are apt to use Perry’s pumpkins for our early fall Cinderella Pumpkin and Squash Bisque. At home, Randall and Nancy like to simply grill up the sweet corn and slather it with butter. Nothing simpler, nothing summery-er!