For a lot of local food lovers, summer is the most wonderful time of the year.
From succulent strawberries to sweet peaches, the bounty from urban and nearby farms is impressive and resplendent. And one of the most popular types of produce now in season is corn.
First things first: sweet corn, Chilliwack corn, supersweet corn. What’s in a name? They’re one and the same, according to Charlotte Lepp, whose family members are the owners of and farmers at Lepp Farm Market in Abbotsford.
“Chilliwack corn is not a variety of corn,” Lepp tells the Straight. “It’s just corn grown in Chilliwack, and we grow all the same varieties as the Chilliwack farmers do.
“I’m pretty passionate about this, as we get asked the question all the time: ‘Is your corn Chilliwack corn?’ ” she says. “It springs from the Chilliwack farmers being the first ones to grow corn on a large scale, and the name stuck.”
There are other misconceptions about corn that Lepp can clear up. For instance, there’s no such thing as Peaches and Cream corn or Jubilee corn.
However, there are hundreds of varieties of sweet corn that have been developed through years of hybridization (not to be confused with genetic modification) to hold their sugar content, making for a longer shelf life than the corn of years ago, she explains.
“These are divided into two main groups: supersweet and sugar-enhanced,” Lepp says. “The supersweet varieties germinate better in cooler temperatures and so these are the first varieties that we plant and they make up the bulk of what you find on the market today.
"While you may argue that you find the all-yellow sweeter than the bi-colour, it really comes down to whether it’s a sugar-enhanced or a supersweet variety. But try telling that to someone who has made up their mind about their favourite corn.”
Heat helps sweet corn
What makes growing corn here challenging is waiting for the soil to be warm enough to plant the seed, says Andrew Arkesteyn-Vogler, co-owner and farmer at Abbotsford’s Crisp Organics.
“If you plant it too early, the seed will rot in the ground,” Arkesteyn-Vogler tells the Straight. “Sweet corn loves heat, so that why it grows so well in the Fraser Valley.
“Sweet corn takes a long time to fully mature, so it isn’t ready to harvest at the beginning of summer,” he adds. “But it is well worth the wait.”
The hardest thing about growing corn is the weather, just as it is with every other crop, according to Lepp.
“This year we planted earlier than we’ve ever done before, in late March,” she says. “April was warmer and drier than usual, giving us hope for an early season, and then May and June walloped us with rain and cold weather.
“So all the corn that was out of the ground stalled in their growing process and caused one of our latest starts to the season,” Lepp adds. “You just never know what Mother Nature is going to throw at you.”
You can, of course, source locally grown sweet corn at Vancouver Farmers Market locations and grocery stores.
Once you’ve picked up your freshly picked corn to take home, what are some ways to cook and prepare it?
Arkesteyn-Vogler loves encouraging people to try eating it raw, right off the cob, when it’s fresh. Beyond that, he likes to keep it simple.
“I like sweet corn very lightly cooked and served in tacos or added to a warm tomato salad,” Arkesteyn-Vogler says. “Corn is only in season for a short period of time, locally, so it’s a great choice to eat during the peak of the local growing season.”
For boiled corn, Lepp suggests a straightforward approach.
“Bring water to a boil. Don’t ever add salt, as that toughens the corn. Add the corn, return to a gentle boil and cook for five minutes. Turn heat off, and if you’re not serving it immediately, leave it in the hot water until serving time.”
The Lepps also take an afternoon to freeze corn for the winter. Details for that are on the farm’s website, along with recipes for dishes like Mexican Street Corn Salad (with cilantro, Cotija cheese, poblano or jalapeno peppers, and more) and Tomato Corn and Cheese Galette (with Gruyère and basil).
We’ll leave you with a fun fact: the tassel of a corn plant is where the pollen is produced and it’s spread by the wind to the silks of the ear, which means that each silk will produce one kernel.
“If you could count the silky strands, you would know how many kernels there should be on the cob,” Lepp says. “That one always wows people.”