Corn: Worth a Change of Plans

The Swarthmorean
August 16, 2019

By Kathryn Taylor

We changed our Cape Cod vacation plans because of corn.

Yes, corn. Corn on the cob. Summer’s superstar. August is high season for corn in Pennsylvania. New England may think that it’s high season for corn there, too. But Cape Cod corn can’t hold a candle to fresh corn from the farms of Pennsylvania. If we were to go up for an extended visit in August, I would miss my summer’s quota of corn on the cob.

I was born into a family of corn on the cob lovers. I inherited my condition. Maize madness. When I was a little girl growing up in Hollidaysburg, Pa., I would tag along with my mother to Baronner’s farm market down on Juniata Street, just past Legion Memorial Park on the way to Duncansville. I remember wandering around bins of cantaloupe and watermelon, tabletops covered with peaches, plums, tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans. But my mother was there to buy corn. Four dozen ears of corn, usually twice a week. She was not preserving it for winter. Our family of seven (Mom, Dad, Pappap, Jimmy, David, Beth, me) regularly ate that many ears of corn at any one sitting.

Four dozen ears of corn (at 25¢ a dozen) loaded into the back of the green station wagon. Four dozen ears of corn dumped outside the kitchen door for various family members to husk. Four dozen ears of corn dropped for three minutes into cauldrons of boiling water on the electric stove in the kitchen and on the old gas stove down in the basement. Four dozen ears of corn piled high on platters carried into the dining room.

All seven of us loved corn, but Dad, Mom, and me most of all. Ear after ear dripping with butter, showered with salt, picked up with our fingers. No cute little plastic ears of corn with tiny steel spikes jabbed into the end of the cob. No wussy corn holders for us. I ate typewriter-style, starting with the stem end to the left and working across, three rows at a time, click, click, click, click, bing!, then on to the next set of three rows. Stripped cobs would pile up on platters earlier relieved of the intact cobs. Of the four dozen ears, I could polish off a dozen all by myself. Of course, I didn’t eat anything else for dinner. No hamburger. No barbecued chicken. No baked potato. Certainly nothing green. Maybe some sliced tomatoes on the side. Maybe a Creamsicle for dessert.

Downing a dozen was a feat that I could still accomplish into my 30s. While those days are long gone and now I usually tuck in to only two, my craving for fresh Pennsylvania farm corn has not diminished. No packages from the vegetable section of the freezer aisles in the Acme in winter will do. No ears shipped up from Florida in late spring, or even Maryland in June. I never order corn on the cob at a restaurant. Who knows where that corn has come from, or how long it has been sitting in a steamy pot?

I have had to adapt to certain changes. At first glance, Wolff’s Apple House looks reassuringly similar to Baronner’s (if considerably larger), with tables of tomatoes and deep counters of corn. But 25¢ a dozen? A quarter wouldn’t even get you a full ear of corn today. And the choices are no longer simple. It’s not just yellow, white, or bi-color. Now there is a multitude of varieties, some with names that are beyond understanding. Yellow could be True Gold or Sundance. White could be Country Gentleman or Martian Jewels. Bi-color could be Sugar & Gold or Quickie. There’s even a multi-color variety called Hookers.

Yet I remain undaunted. I will be buying corn two or three times a week through August.

So see you in September, Cape Cod.