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Summer Corn Salad

I grew up surrounded by farmers. My grandparents (on my mother’s and father’s side) were former tobacco farmers, and when I was little I remember walking past the tobacco barn, smelling the rich, sweet smell of the tobacco as it cured. But you can’t eat tobacco. Well, I suppose you could (ick), but even in the tobacco-belt of North Carolina I never knew anyone to actually eat it. So, they supplemented their tobacco fields with kitchen gardens and beef cattle.

I didn’t realize it growing up, but these gardens meant good eatin’. While most kids my age were eating canned green beans and corn from the supermarket shelves, I was eating home-grown food. Fresh and home-canned green beans, corn right out of the garden, collards and kale cooked with the dew still on them. I was a supremely lucky child.

I also took part in gatherings that, little did I know at the time, were disappearing rapidly from American culture. Corn shuckings, bean breakings, pea shellings, and whole days devoted to canning and preserving. The one revelatory moment that I remember from all this, or at least the one that sticks in my mind most vividly, is the day I ate raw corn fresh from the stalk.

We had been out in the garden for the better part of the morning, picking ears of corn to cook and freeze for the winter. The heat was beginning to really bear down on us, stifling our energy and conversation, by the time we finished. Inside, my grandmother offered me an ear of corn. “Raw?”, I asked incredulously, as I was at an age where anything raw was automatically suspect. “Try it,” she said. I worked through my doubt and took a bite. Clean, pure, sweet, and softly vegetal. It was the best thing I had ever put in my mouth.

The kernels popped between my teeth, juice spurted wildly, I was hooked. I think I ate half a dozen ears of raw corn that day, some with salt and butter, some plain, nothing masking their honest flavor. They tasted so utterly of corn that I could hardly believe it. It sounds funny to say that, but canned corn does not taste purely of corn. Even cooked fresh corn does not taste purely of corn. But this, raw corn on the cob, was truly what corn should taste like.

I’ve never been able to get that flavor out of my head. It’s what keeps me from buying canned corn off dusty supermarket shelves and from eating corn out of season. There’s just no substitute for it. This recipe is all about that fresh corn flavor. Few embellishments, no cooking. Just straight-up corn flavor. Please, please buy the freshest corn you can. Even better, if you know someone who grows corn (or know someone who knows someone who grows corn), try to buy a few ears from them, or find some at your local farmer’s market. If you buy corn that has sat on the shelves in the produce section of your grocery store, chances are it has been there a while, and much of the natural sugar that corn possesses will have converted to starch (just like in fresh peas).

I recommend buying organically grown corn for this. Pesticide residue is never a good thing, but conventionally grown corn tends to get plastered with heaping helpings of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. As always, add whatever you like to this, but the idea is to keep it very simple. You want the corn flavor to be predominant.

Summer Corn Salad
Serves 4 as a side

Combine in a medium bowl:
            4 fresh ears of corn, shucked, silks removed, and cut from the cob
            Handful cherry tomatoes
            2 cloves garlic, minced
            1 red jalapeño, seeded and minced
            2 tablespoons basil, chopped
            2 tablespoons parsley, minced
            2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
            Juice of one lemon
            Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

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