Corn was an important crop in Texas long before Texas was Texas. Spanish explorers discovered Native Americans growing corn when they arrived in the eastern part of the state in the early 1500s. The grain was the basic ingredient in ancient recipes for tamales, tortillas, and posole.
Centuries later, the crop was planted by farmers, and small, horse-powered mills ground corn into cornmeal. Cornbread, hominy grits, hoecake, and corn whiskey popped up in Texas cooking. Currently, Texas harvests nearly 2 million acres annually, a haul that generates $1.7 billion for the state.
Corn is the most versatile and controversial crop in the U.S. It is processed into thousands of food and industrial products such as sweeteners, corn oil, starch, high-fructose syrup, industrial alcohol, and fuel ethanol. In the mid-1990s, genetically modified corn seeds designed to be herbicide resistant catapulted corn into the international debate on the long-term effects of using GMO seeds. Agribusiness lobbyists can debate the health issues that surround GMO-raised corn until the cows come home, but one bite of fresh, organic corn confirms that the taste is beyond comparison. Thankfully, there are many local farms dedicated to growing non-GMO corn, available at Whole Foods, Central Market, and Oak Cliff’s Urban Acres.
While recently buying corn at Urban Acres, a friendly staffer instructed me to look for ears with tender, but not bloated, kernels that are easily punctured with your fingernail. The juice should be slightly milky. Corn is best eaten right away, as the sugars in the kernels get starchy fast. If you must store it, cut the knob off the bottom and leave the ear in the husk. You can keep it in the refrigerator for two or three days at the most.
Most sweet corn requires only three to five minutes in boiling water. I don’t recommend it, but you can cook corn in a microwave. Getting your grill out and experimenting with some of your favorite herbs and select butter yields the most satisfying outcome. Try the recipe at right for a sweet, smoky treat.