IT’S USUALLY HERE by now, folks. As a matter of fact it may be just around the corner. Some reports this year have even claimed the first local pickings occurred about June 30. I’m referring, of course, to what I call “Buckeye Gold,” Ohio’s tender, succulent, sweet corn. On the average sweet corn season in northeastern Ohio runs from the middle of July to the end of September, or until the first frost hits.
There are fewer pleasures of summer living more satisfying than sinking your choppers into tender, delicious, kernels of Ohio’s mouth-watering, white and yellow sweet corn slathered with real melted butter and sprinkled with salt and pepper. No matter what you call it, Bread & Butter, Salt & Pepper or Milk & Honey, those delicious, tender kernels have a tendency to melt right in your mouth.
And folks, no state, not one of the fifty - absolutely none - grows sweet corn quite as good and tasty as our own Buckeye state. I don’t know what it is, but I’m sure it must have something to do with the soil. A friend once told me, instead of chemical fertilizers it’s the Amish natural farm manure that’s used. Needless to say, I never pursued the subject.
Since there’s a three week difference in the growing season, as of late last month we’ve been buying our corn plucked from the fertile fields downstate near Marietta. Much earlier, tough, bland sweet corn was being “imported” from Georgia and Florida. By the time it reached Stark and Summit counties it had already started turning from sugar to starch, making it tough, somewhat bitter and unappetizing.
And as far as flavor goes, there was none - mainly because there was never any there to start. But thanks to the growing season we have here in northeastern Ohio, contrary to what some may tell you, the fields of our own local farmers are ready for the picking.
As kids, we thought the best sweet corn came from the rich rolling hills near our childhood home in Pennsylvania’s southern York County. But what did we know? It’s all we’ve ever eaten. So naturally, to us it was the best. And we were always told to pick it the same day we ate it. Otherwise the sugar in the corn would start turning to starch as soon as the ear leaves the stalk. And that, folks, is the beginning of tough sweet corn.
There are some, however, who dispute that fact. They call it an old wives tale. But I’m not here to give them an argument. Instead, let’s just say on one hand there may be some truth to it. But on the other hand, with a dozen, and sometimes more to feed, I suspect it may have been Mom’s way of making sure we didn’t waste any.
Page 2 of 3 - Most of you know I came from what is now considered to be a very large family. Considering that nothing ever went to waste, after our feasts the cobs were sent to the barnyard for the livestock to finish. And I can assure you those animals knew what good tasting sweet corn was as they fought heartily for cobs with any kernels of corn remaining.
For decades, almost every year I’ve compared other sweet corn with what I ate as a kid. None could even come close to matching that early summer delicacy. That is until I moved to the Buckeye state in the sixties. That’s when I was introduced to Szalay’s sweet corn from down in the Cuyahoga Valley. That corn was the best Buckeye Gold I had ever tasted.
According to some farmers, a dry year may hurt you, but a wet one can kill you. With the dry conditions that seem to have been prevalent this year, the latest reports say that, after being exposed to too many dry days and too much heat, not all, but at least a third of Ohio’s corn is in poor condition. But not Szalay’s corn. Even in dry weather it remains full, sweet and tender. That’s because of the natural high water table the land sits on down in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
Many times, as we stopped to buy a few dozen ears, a tractor arrived pulling a full wagon load of corn. It was picked less than an hour before. Naturally that’s the corn we bought. On weekends they have corn cooked right there. You can buy it by the ear, sit on a swing or at a picnic table, enjoy the live entertainment they occasionally provide and let those tender kernels of Buckeye Gold do their magic before you start shopping. I always do.
In time I started experimenting with other local outlets and soon discovered the Summit, Stark, Medina, Portage, Holmes county area was a goldmine for great tasting sweet corn.
I soon became convinced the corn raised here was the tastiest that’s ever been grown. So to make sure, I recently took a trip back to Pennsylvania during the peak of their corn season. After tasting corn once again from that region, my taste buds confirmed that Buckeye Gold was everything I had claimed it to be, and then some.
More recently I discovered that Andrew Figley, owner of Figaro’s Farms on E. Turkeyfoot Road (between Cottage Grove Road and South Main Street), also handled fresh Buckeye Gold. Folks, trust me when I say Figley’s corn is every bit as good and tender as Szalay’s. I know. I’ve tried it and it was simply delicious. So I questioned him. It turns out he grows his corn in the fields right behind his market and usually has corn right up to the first frost. So good and fresh was his corn that we served 36 dozen last October at a special corn roast benefit.
Page 3 of 3 - If it’s not ready by the time you read this, it will be soon. Early each morning the corn is picked and sold fresh in his store on Rte 619 in the Portage Lakes. And like so much of the other sweet corn grown in our five county area, Figaro’s is also outstanding.
To sink your choppers into tender, juicy, morsels of Buckeye Gold, folks, I doubt if it ever gets any better than that!
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