Green fields of corn rising from the South Carolina earth is more than a pretty sight. It’s also a signal that a bounty of farm-fresh goodness is about to grace our tables.
With careful tending, more than 300,000 acres of prolific cornstalks spring up across the state each year, injecting millions of dollars into the economy, according to the USDA. While that alone makes corn an important crop, it is also prized by South Carolinians who anticipate sinking their teeth into those sweet, milky kernels of deliciousness.
Along with peaches, peas and watermelons, corn is a summertime darling of area farmers markets. Some folks leave with a few ears for supper, while others lug home a bushel for canning or freezing. Shucking is a common warm-weather pastime—one that even youngsters can participate in. The more the merrier and, in this case, the quicker those cobs go from the boiling pot to the plate.
Just speaking some of the more common varietal names, like Sugar Buns, Kandy Korn, Ambrosia and Peaches and Cream, is enough to nudge those taste buds wide awake. And then there’s Silver Queen—one of the most eagerly awaited white corn varieties each season. Pull back the husk on a fresh ear and behold 8 inches of tapered rows, each kernel bursting with just the right amount of sugar. In these parts, this is the stuff of culinary fantasies. Some folks might envision sugarplums dancing in their heads, but South Carolinians dream of Silver Queen chorus lines, strands of golden tassels waving in the wind.
When selecting fresh corn, look for green, pliant husks and silks that are edging toward brownness. Peel back an ear a little bit and take a peek—kernels should be fully developed and milky. Take your picks straight home and either prepare immediately (for best flavor) or keep cool in a moist environment. They will keep in refrigerated conditions for up to five days. But bear in mind that the desired sweetness diminishes a bit as the clock ticks. If you can’t get around to using them up in time, simply blanch the ears for 7 to 10 minutes (depending on size), drain and cool completely. Then, pop them into a freezer bag, seal and place in the freezer. It’s an easy way to salvage some of that corn goodness. Of course, you want the freshest corn and that means SC grown. Visit the Certified SC Grown website for a list of the state's growers and sellers.
Because wasting fresh corn is a huge no-no in the South, we have tons of recipes for using up those leftover ears. Corn cakes is one such dish. A cross between crispy cornbread and creamed corn, these tender, savory cakes are fried until golden brown, buttered and sometimes drizzled with a little maple syrup. Some recipes kick it up a bit with grated cheddar cheese. Serve them as a side dish or make them the star of the show—like stalks of South Carolina corn, they are magnificent enough to stand alone.
South Carolina Corn Cakes
2 ears of South Carolina-grown sweet corn, cut off the cob
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup self-rising white cornmeal
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 cup buttermilk
½ cup shredded sharp cheddar (optional)
1 green onion, chopped
Oil for frying
In a large bowl, mix all ingredients with a spoon. The result should be the consistency of thick pancake batter. If it's too thin, add a little more cornmeal and flour, 1 teaspoon at a time. If it's too thick, thin with a little more buttermilk. In an iron skillet or heavy frying pan, heat ½-inch of oil until it shimmers, then reduce heat to medium. Ladle scoops of corn batter into the pan. When bottoms are golden brown, carefully flip with a spatula and continue frying until the underside browns. (Add a little more oil with each batch, if necessary.) Drain on parchment paper and serve while hot. Offer more butter and maple syrup for drizzling, if desired.