There’s a lot that could be said about the Fourth of July—red, white and blue bunting, parades and fireworks, family gatherings, picnics and pool parties, baseball doubleheaders, hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, ice-cold beer to name but a few—but today I want to write about corn. Yep; corn!
As every good farmer knows (and, as far as I’m concerned, all farmers are good farmers!), the corn that he or she planted back in the spring should be knee high by the Fourth of July. A lack of June rain had me worried for a while, but yesterday, when I went for a drive past miles and miles of Eastern Shore corn fields, I became convinced we’re right on schedule, maybe even a little ahead of schedule. Knee high and then some…
Now I wonder if you’re asking yourself, “so whose knees are we talking about?” That’s a fair question because my knees and my wife’s knees are nowhere near the same height. (Note to self: when she orders something “Extra Small” and it’s much too small, never say, “Honey, maybe you aren’t an XS anymore.” Lesson learned!) Anyway, no matter whose knee is measuring the corn, I think it’s fair to say that this year’s crop is up to knee-high snuff…and that’s a good thing.
Corn has never had an easy row to hoe. (Insert laughing emoji.) There’s excessive heat, drought, hail, floods and tornados. Pests and blight. Baseball players. (Insert emoji for “Field of Dreams.”) But if some ears of sweet corn should manage to survive all the summer mayhem…oh, baby! Is there anything else that so smacks of summer than a perfectly steamed ear of corn, smothered in butter, sprinkled with salt, gnawed clockwise or in rows? Not in my book!
They say that corn—OK, maize—was first domesticated and cultivated by the indigenous people in southern Mexico more than 10,000 years ago. I doubt those farmers ever imagined a family gathering around a Fourth of July picnic table, but we surely owe them a happy debt of gratitude for their foresight. Rolled in butter and sprinkled with salt and pepper, is there anything that tastes more like than summer than a yellow or white ear of corn? There are close seconds—s’mores, watermelons, ripe, fresh tomatoes come to mind—but to me, summer is corn, corn is summer, and all those kernels that get stuck in my teeth be damned!
Did you know that there is more corn grown in the world than wheat and rice combined? Admittedly, a fair amount of that production goes to feed cattle and swine, or gets used in ethanol and other biofuels, but there’s a plentiful and very tasty portion reserved for the rest of us.
At our house, on those nights when we settle in to watch a movie, popcorn is our go-to snack. We listen to the explosion in the microwave, we smell the aroma. Salt and butter make popcorn a late-night treat, and it even pairs well with a nightcap, or, so we tell ourselves, with a pre-bed glass of wine. You’ve got to admit it: if you had a Fourth of July picnic table laden with all of summer’s bounty, would it be complete without a knee-high platter of steamed corn, dripping with butter and sprinkled with some Kosher salt, just waiting for that first bite of mouth-watering goodness?
Kat and I wish you a very happy Fourth!
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. His new novel “This Salted Soil,” a new children’s book, “The Ballad of Poochie McVay,” and two collections of essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”), are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is Musingjamie.net.