Sweet Corn Season
This is happening right now:
And I wish I was there.
Sweet Corn Season. It's a capital-letter-phrase in our household, and it's an experience that I've been looking forward to sharing. Let me tell you the story.
When I turned 12, my parents bought me a cheap, above-ground pool for my birthday to replace the old stock tanks we used to swim in (hashtag farmlife, am I right?). It came with a catch (of course): my brother and I were going to help pick and sell sweet corn the following summer to pay for it.
And thus was born the annual Sweet Corn project.
Starting that year, my dad planted a patch of sweet corn every year in the middle of one of the regular corn fields. Keep in mind that field corn and sweet corn are two completely different things.
Field corn is one of the major cash crops of America; it's what's growing when you see the acres of corn when you drive through the Midwest. It grows to complete maturity, when the kernels are dry and hard, then is harvested and used to feed cattle, sweeten our sodas, and make corn tortillas (and everything in between).
Sweet corn is the kind of corn you eat off the cob. Depending on the quality, it's so sweet and tender that you'll forget to put butter on it. Real sweet corn is sweet and hardly starchy. I'm not really sure what kind of corn they pack cans with in the store - it doesn't resemble fresh sweet corn at all.
We ate buckets of sweet corn during Sweet Corn Season.
The day went like this:
Wake up, stumble out of bed and grab a bite to eat. Throw on a corn shirt (i.e. an old button-down shirt to protect your arms from being sliced by the thin corn leaves) and load up the pick-up by 7:00 am. There is no such thing as cool in Kansas in July, but in order to beat (some of) the heat and humidity, we had to be done picking by 8:00 am.
My brother, Ray, and I usually rode in the back of the pick-up, holding the 5-gallon buckets (usually up-cycled paint or oil buckets that had been thoroughly cleaned) that we used to haul the corn from the field to the pick-up.
At the field, we each had a job. A picker would go up and down the rows selecting only the corn that was ready - too young and corn doesn't have much flavor; too mature and the kernels become starchy and lose their sweet tenderness. When I first learned how to pick, I'd peel back the shuck of the ear while it was still on the stalk just a little to peek inside the ear. After a while, a master picker could identify a ripe ear from an immature one at just a glance.
When a picker filled the bucket, he'd yell, "Need a bucket!" and Ray (the hauler) would grumpily saunter through the rows and switch out the full bucket for an empty one. Throughout the years, various (naive) friends would come join us for sweet corn season and help with hauling. Entry-level jobs during Sweet Corn Season were haulers and shuckers; only seasoned sweet corn-ers could be promoted to picker or sorter.
Once the pick-up bed was full (and verified by Dad - Ray's judgment of "full" was slightly different than Dad's), Ray and I (and any extra helpers for the day) would pile into the back of the pick-up and we'd drive back home.
Once at home, the work was not done. The sorters (Dad and in later years, me) got to work sorting the corn into piles of sellers and shuckers. Sellers were the large, beautiful ears that had avoided attacks from corn earworms or raccoons that we sold in the husk.
Shuckers were the lower-quality ears - perhaps they were small or damaged in some way - that went into a pile to be shucked (the process of removing the husk from the corn). They were then dry cleaned - silks removed, tips and base cut off - and packaged into gallon Zip-Locks to be sold for a slight upcharge.
Then there were the rejects. These poor souls were the ears that, once shucked and cleaned, were determined to be unworthy of selling. They were too short, too ugly, or just not the right maturity. Although not very pretty, they were still tasty! For every lunch and dinner we gorged on these delicious morsels - it was an unspoken rule that you should eat at least three or four (short) ears, or you were (good naturely) teased. The rest of the corn - that which we couldn't sell or consume that day - was blanched and packaged to freeze. Thus we always enjoyed Scheufler Sweet Corn all year 'round.
This "project" originated as a means to 1) pay for a pool that we fit in better than a 2 1/2 foot deep metal stock tank and 2) teach my brother and I how to work hard and value an education. Little did my Dad know it would become so much more. It became an annual tradition that we all simultaneously looked forward to and dreaded at the same time.
For all the hard work, we were rewarded with unforgettable memories. For all of the sore muscles, we were rewarded with dinner table laughter and inside jokes. For all of the hot afternoons, we were rewarded with pool parties every evening in that hard-earned pool.
Even now, almost 10 years after my brother and I moved out and took summer jobs that kept us from being able to participate in Sweet Corn Season, Dad still plants his token sweet corn and Mom helps him pick, haul, sort, shuck, and clean sweet corn for their neighbors and friends.
Sweet Corn Season. If I could, I'd go back and do it all again.
With love, from Peas and Hoppiness.