Here in Washington, summer is a time for fresh fruit and vegetables – including my favorite… corn!
Our fertile Yakima Valley is famous for producing some of the best food in the country. When the weather gets hot, farmers’ market stalls start filling up with peaches, broccoli, rhubarb, melons, asparagus, green beans, and more berries than I could name.
Out here, corn doesn’t just grow on farms. We have a unique corn culture in the Yakima Valley, and it starts right in many of our residents’ front yards.
Everyone’s a Farmer
It seems like most Yakima Valley residents have a deep agricultural urge, even those who aren’t farmers in the traditional sense.
During planting season, lots of people here roll up their sleeves and set to work planting their own crop of sweet corn. A modest yard can support around 10 rows of corn, but some residents with more land to work with grow 30 or more every year, which is more than enough to cook, can, and share.
For as long as I can remember, my neighbors’ yards have been filled with sturdy green stalks, stretching high into the air and rustling against each other in the breeze. I find that sound so pleasant and peaceful. Whenever I hear it, I’m reminded of how lucky I am to be living in this community, surrounded by the simple pleasures of farms and friends.
Knee-High by the Fourth of July
I couldn’t say how long residents have been growing their own corn, but down the road from us lives an old farmer (probably in his 90s) who’s been growing corn in his garden for the last 50+ years. I always used to take my kids over to his house to go on “field trips” through the cornfield and pick corn together. Those memories come flooding back to me on warm summer afternoons when I look out over his fields.
That’s how it is with most of the people here – as soon as there’s no danger of frost (usually mid-May), folks hurry to get the corn in the ground so they can get it in their bellies.
After observing my friends and neighbors taking part in this Yakima Valley tradition, I tried to grow my own corn about 6 years ago. Let’s just say… it could have gone better.
We left on a mini vacation, and when we came home, all those beautiful rows of corn were brown and withered. That was a pretty disappointing experience, but it won’t be my last attempt. We’re currently in the process of building a new home, so once it’s done, I’m determined to try again.
To prepare for that day, I decided to ask my neighbors with greener thumbs for some advice. I asked them about how they keep their crop growing, and they said that the first thing you need for a successful harvest is lots of nitrogen in the soil and lots of water. As the corn grows, you definitely have to put in some elbow grease, weeding around the plants and keeping pests like racoons and beetles at bay.
As the corn ripens, you can see little golden hairs (or “the silk”) begin to sprout from the top of the ear, and as the crop reaches maturity, it fills the air with a refreshing, sweet smell.
Harvest time comes about 85-100 days after planting, depending on the weather and the exact variety of corn. Once the corncobs are full and the kernels are a nice shade of yellow, you know they’re ready to be picked.
Share and Share Alike
I’ve grown up around agriculture my whole life, and many of my happiest family memories involve corn in one way or another. A few years back, my grandpa came up to visit from out of state, and my son enthusiastically showed him around the cornfields, where they spent several hours picking corn together.
People around here love to share the corn they grow with each other at parties and get-togethers. Instead of a bottle of wine or dessert, most folks will bring over an armful of their pride and joy: sweet, crisp, homegrown corncobs.
This tradition has always seemed perfectly normal to me, but when my cousin from Los Angeles came to visit last year, I got to experience it through her eyes.
We went to a birthday party together and a buddy of mine was out back, shucking the load of corn he had brought with him. My cousin walked over and asked him where it had all come from. Beaming with pride, he told her that he had grown it all himself.
How It’s Done
When we get together for meals as a family in the summer, there’s no shortage of creative ways to prepare the corn we’ve picked.
My favorite way is probably the simplest – boiled in a pot of water with a dash of sugar. I wait until the water is boiling, then leave the corn in for no more than five minutes (I do not like soft corn). Then I eat it right off the cob with a little bit of butter and some salt and pepper. I love it!
My husband’s favorite method is to barbeque the corn with its husk still on.
He pulls the outer husk down to the base and removes all the stringy silk from the ears by hand. Then he replaces the husk and soaks the whole thing in a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes. Finally, he throws the ears on the grill for about 20 minutes, turning them frequently, and then serves them with butter and herbs or barbeque sauce.
No Place Like It
Joining in the tradition of growing and sharing corn is one of the best parts about living in the Yakima Valley. I’m looking forward to growing my own crop next year and bringing along plenty to share with my friends and family in this wonderful little farming town I call home.
Feature photo credit: Yakima-grown corn by Valley Farms fruit and vegetable store