Sweet Corn is not only a genuine bit of Americana, but it's a near-necessity on summer picnic tables. Ears of corn on the cob are a fresh garden produce treat. It's a staple in the diets of most Central and South American countries, and some make their best desserts out of sweet corn! The trick is knowing when to pick it.
Sweet Corn Plants are ready for picking about 20 days past when the silks emerge. Watch for the ears to be plump and filled out, and the tassel ends should feel rounded, as opposed to pointy. The silks should have begun to darken and wilt. That's the sign the ears have finished developing.
It's also possible to tell if the corn is ready for harvest by pulling back gently on the husk to reveal a few kernels. Pop one with your fingernail. If the liquid inside is clear and watery, the sugars haven't developed fully on the ear. If the liquid is opaque and milky, it's a sure sign you've got a delicious dinner side dish about to happen.
Try not to remove the husk to expose the kernels unless you're pretty certain the corn is ready for harvest. If it needs to remain on the stalk longer to reach maturity, the exposed end will be more vulnerable to rotting and infestation by insects and vermin.
Corn maintains its sweetness best if eaten immediately after being picked, but it can also store well in the refrigerator for a week or more. Keep the husks on, to maintain moistness and to protect the delicate kernels. Popcorn and corn meal store for up to a year, but the drying and preserving/preparation processes differ from sweet corn.
After determining an ear of sweet corn is ready to be picked, simply grab the ear and snap it downward off of the stalk. If it's resistant, just give it a slight twist, watch our sweet corn video. Store the fresh-picked ears out of sunlight and heat, to stop the maturation process, which is when the sugars inside the kernels turn to starch.
Preparing sweet corn is one of summer's greatest joys. After removing the husks and the fine silks that run the lengths of the rows, rinse the corn in fresh cool water. Whole ears can be boiled, steamed, roasted or grilled. Or, corn can be cut off of the cob and steamed, stir-fried, or added into casseroles or baked goods.
Corn can be frozen on the cob or cut off of the cob. Blanch it before freezing. It can be canned by traditional methods, or by pickling into corn relishes. It can also be made into creamed corn or corn chowder, and then canned or frozen. Just remember to prepare or preserve corn immediately after picking, for the sweetest end results.