It probably feeds more mouths than any vegetable in the world, and we don’t even call it by it by its proper name. We eat it dozens of ways, and many animals, and even insects, devour it daily.
It is maize, better known as corn, and is consumed in every course of the American diet and all over the world. The name corn was originally used by the English in reference to any cereal crop. To us, it signifies the sweet yellow and white kernels on cobs clothed in silks and husks.
The American Indians gifted corn to the modern world. Colonists called it Indian corn, which had red, blue, brown and purple kernels. Horticulturists developed the varieties we eat today with creamier kernels, harvested immaturely for its tender, sweet and starchy content. Mature corn is primarily used for grains, and popcorn is a different variety containing a tough outer shell.
Actually, corn is traced back to the Aztecs and Mayans. Today it is a staple all over the world and raised in a variety of climates.
White Silver Queen, the darling of New England, is also grown here, along with other varieties, although grocery stores rarely specify the variety. For cooking, the freshest available is the best bet for eating on the cob or cooking in soups, chowders, salads, relishes, casseroles, fritters, pudding or bread. In south Louisiana, that would be in late May through August with the best in late summer.
We love our fresh corn, but consume much of it in corn flour, cornmeal, corn oil, cornstarch, corn syrup, corn whiskey and bourbon.
With our Cajun-Creole cooking style, corn lends itself to soups and stews, including our famous maque choux and, of course crawfish boils with their spicy corn and potatoes.
The first time I tasted a corn soup was when I was a young girl visiting my grandmother near New Orleans. And, yes, it starts with a roux.
Peel husks back leaving them attached at the base of the cobs. Clean out the silks and discard. Salt kernels lightly and rub softened butter over them. Cover with husks and tie together with string. Place on grill about 10 inches over medium-hot coals, turning occasionally, until corn is done, about 15 to 20 minutes. Check for doneness with a fork.
Shrimp and Corn Soup
6 ears corn
2 pounds head-on shrimp, or 1 pound peeled and deveined frozen shrimp
1/4 cup vegetable oil
¼ cup butter, melted
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 large onion, chopped
5 green onions, white and green parts separated and chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 quarts shrimp or chicken stock
1 large or 2 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon thyme
½ cup heavy cream
1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1. Shuck corn and remove silks. With a sharp knife, cut kernels off corn cobs while holding over a large bowl. Use a table knife to scrape juice from the cobs into the bowl.
2. If using fresh shrimp, peel and devein them, saving the heads and shells for making a stock. To make the stock, place heads and shells in a large pot, cover with 2 quarts of water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain and set aside.
3. In a large pot, melt butter, mix with oil and flour and heat over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture begins turning darker. Keep heat between medium-high and medium and continue stirring until roux reaches the color of peanut butter. Add white onions, bell pepper and celery and simmer until vegetables are wilted. Add garlic and simmer 1 minute. Gradually add stock and then tomato and seasonings. Simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes.
4. Add corn and continue simmering for 15 minutes. Add shrimp and simmer for 10 more minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cream, green onion tops and parsley. Serve hot. If reheating, heat gradually, stirring occasionally.