Well, summer afternoons are indeed wondrous, but I think I have a serious contender for the title of two most beautiful words:
It’s that time of year in New Mexico. My friend Jo-Ann and I got up early yesterday morning and went to The Station for coffee and then wandered down through the railyard to the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market. We bought too much stuff, as usual…fat red radishes, a bouquet of oak leaf lettuce, perfect snow peas, a new (to me) variety of apple called Wolf River that I haven’t tried yet, blackberries that are so plump and ripe I’ll probably be forced to eat them in the next two days.
I didn’t really expect the corn guy to be there yet, but I took a quick peek out back (just in case) and my heart went boom…he was there! With his trailer full of sweet white corn. Six dollars and fifty cents for a dozen ears. I couldn’t help myself. I bought a dozen. Dumb. Geoff’s out of town, and Blue can’t eat corn on the cob…something about no opposable thumbs. What to do?
I confess, I had a plan in mind all along. I know, I know…“dried corn” sounds totally boring. The truth is, it’s anything but.
I actually tried this a number of years ago and it turned out great, but the instructions got lost and I forgot about it. And I haven’t always had access to a dependable supply of top quality corn.
Last year after stuffing my face with corn on the cob, I was lamenting the fact that the season for it is so short and wishing there was some way to have good corn in months other than August. Some way other than buying frozen corn, which is a poor red-headed stepchild to the real thing. Suddenly I remembered my dried corn project. I went straight to my computer, typed “dried corn” into my favorite search engine (Dogpile) and immediately found what I was looking for.
Now, lest you think you can just throw some ears of corn out on the back porch to dry in the sun, let me clarify. This does involve a little work and a little time. But it’s sooo worth it. The recipe is available at Mother Earth News and Straight from the Farm websites, but to save you the trip, here it is:
Oven Dried Sweet Corn
8 cups fresh corn cut from the cob (about 12 ears)
Yes, I know. We’re all used to instant gratification, but here’s what I did. On the shade of the patio, I assembled a big old glass of iced tea, the boombox with an Emmylou Harris CD, a dozen ears of corn, a small, sturdy paring knife, an old cookie sheet, a trash bag for the shucks and silks, a big bowl for the corn, and my dog Blue for company. The whole operation—husking, cutting and clean-up took about an hour. A very pleasant hour, I might add.
2 tsp kosher salt
If you use table salt, use about 1½ tsp.
1½ tsp sugar (optional)
A matter of personal taste, but it does make the corn caramelize nicely.
¼ c heavy cream
I had no cream in the house and I was too lazy to go to the store, so I used half & half. It worked fine, but the cream is really better. The extra butterfat adds another layer of wonderfulness.
Preheat the oven to 200°F and get out two half-sheet pans or cookie sheets. You can spritz them with a bit of oil if you like, but it’s not strictly necessary.
Combine all ingredients in a (very) large saucepan or shallow pot. I used my12-inch sauté pan and it was perfect. Cook the whole thing over medium low heat, stirring often, until the cream is absorbed/evaporated.
Divide the corn between the two pans and bake in the oven for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes and switching the pans top to bottom. Stirring keeps the kernels separate and opening the oven door helps get rid of the steam that builds up.
After an hour, turn off the heat and allow the oven to cool, but don’t remove the corn. When the oven is cold, turn it back on and bake for another hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Repeat until the corn is completely dehydrated. (If you want, you can leave it in the oven overnight and resume the process in the morning.)
The kernels will be about half their original size, roasty-golden brown, chewy, sweet and yummy. Let the corn cool put it in zip lock freezer bag(s) and use as you will. I used the last of my stash from last summer about three weeks ago and it was still great.
To reconstitute, use 2 cups of cold water for each cup of corn. In a saucepan, bring the water and corn to a boil over high heat. Reduce to moderate/low heat and simmer, partly covered, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the corn is tender, 20-25 minutes. You can then use it in corn bread, spoon bread, salads, salsa, tacos, wherever you would use fresh corn.
You can also just grab a handful out of the freezer and toss it in soups, stews and casseroles for a little bit of summer afternoon during a cold, dark winter.