The heartbreak of chewy, tasteless sweet corn

One fond memory of living in the Midwest is the taste of freshly harvested sweet corn, from the field to a pot of boiling water, as the saying goes. I’ve tried to replicate that here several times, with mediocre to lousy results. One year we got a great harvest of corn smut, which in Mexico is called huitacloche and is considered a delicacy. I don’t dislike it, but “delicacy” is a bit too euphemistic a description. Then last year the corn, and pretty much everything else we planted, was devoured by grasshoppers.

This season we built a greenhouse-like structure but instead of glass we used a plastic mesh to keep out the grasshoppers, birds and rabbits. We left an opening at the top to let in bees (Félix’s idea). The vegetables inside went bonkers, probably aided by the higher-than-normal rainfall. We stuck to an organic-ish gardening regimen, using only compost for fertilizer. 

The results were worthy of a magazine cover—broccoli, orange cauliflower, squash, zucchini, beans and an avalanche of peas, among other goodies. 

In the middle we planted some sweet corn I ordered from the U.S., which also grew beautifully. Yesterday Félix very proudly presented us with two ears of corn, pulling back the husks to reveal the rows of perfect-looking kernels. For dinner last night, I cooked the corn on the grill according to a recipe Stew inherited from his dad while the family lived in Iowa and Wisconsin. 

The taste of the corn was worse than disappointing: It was chewy-gummy and not sweet at all. Insipid would be a kind description. It resembled the taste of white corn preferred by Mexicans, who scorn American sweet corn as tasting like “chewing gum.”

I don’t know what went wrong. Maybe I bought the wrong kind of corn from Burpee Seeds (“Golden Bantam Heirloom”). I wrote Burpee a note to inquire. Maybe there was too much rain? More than a few times, the corn fields around us have been swamped by the downpours, though the corn looks better than it has in years. Or perhaps my cooking it on the grill, with the husks on with some butter squirted inside, was not a good idea. Boiling may be better.

The consolation, not inconsiderable, is that all the other vegetables have grown rambunctiously, except for the cantaloupes which didn’t even make an appearance. 

Ever since coming to Mexico I’ve developed a taste for vegetables, including former unmentionables such as Swiss chard and spinach. But while growing our own vegetables certainly has helped develop my palate, I still have limitations: Okra, Brussels sprouts and beets remain off the menu.  


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