Wednesday night I threw together some crab cakes, thinking they'd be a nice addition to Melissa's white corn recipe over at Alosha's Kitchen. They sell sweet corn at the grocery store this time of year, how bad could it be, right?
Bad. Little chewy nuggets of starch. If vegetables could have gristle, this corn did. In a willful suspension of disbelief (WSD), I allowed myself to buy something that is clearly not in season.
For any of you that might not be familiar with the general geographic, geologic shape of the planet that we all, presumably, live upon, the earth is a sphere. That orbits a big ball of super-hot gas we call the sun. Because of that orbit, we have seasons. And if you live in the northern hemisphere, it's the coldest damn part of winter right now. Even here in Florida they're expecting us to dip below freezing again.
Corn, on the other hand, is a summer vegetable. Growing up in Wisconsin, oft was the time I'd heard 'knee-high by the Fourth of July', meaning that sweet corn wouldn't really be in season until mid- to late August.
Funny thing about hemispheres, when it's winter up here, it's summer down south, and vice-versa. That means that mid- to late February is the perfect sweet corn season, if, say, you live in Argentina, or New Zealand, or Rand McNally.
Which brings me to the actual science-y bit of today's discussion.
Fresh-picked sweet corn, corn that self-justifies the term 'milk stage' when a kernel is popped, corn which is then soaked in icy cold water and grilled until the husks are almost gone, dipped in melted butter and salted lightly is a good thing. It is good, because fresh corn kernels are still filled mostly with sugar. And it's difficult not to feel joy as butter dribbles down one's chin.
However, the farther corn needs to travel from field to table, or the longer it sits on grocery store shelves, the more that sugar is converted to starch through an enzymatic process, especially if the corn is held at less than optimal temperature. Sweet corn for market is hypercooled to remove as much field heat from the ears as quickly as possible to slow this conversion process. However, a careless or hurried farmer may rush the process, damaging the quality of the corn before it's even loaded on a truck.
Additionally, when I'd buy sweet corn in Wisconsin, it was coming from a farmer who drove it a mile up the road to where he's selling it, and probably picked the ears that day. Right now, I'm approximately 4000 miles from Argentina and Rand McNally, making that trip significantly longer.
Fresh corn is doomed this time of year, because no grocery store has the capacity to hold it at optimal temperature. The warmer corn is, the faster it converts all of the sugar to starch. Corn kept in a humid, 33-degree environment will convert approximately 6% of its sugar reserves to starch in a day. Conversely, in an arid, 50-degree environment, one I'd say closely resembles my local market, corn will convert nearly 60% of its sugar reserves to starch in one 24-hour period.
So sorry, Melissa, to have sullied such a fantastic recipe with bad science. Next time I'm buying frozen.