Don Mauer is taking some time off. This column originally appeared on July 12, 2006.
It still amazes me that I can go into a supermarket at anytime of the year and buy fresh corn on the cob.
When I was kid, that wasn't the case. We ate corn on the cob only when it was freshly picked from Illinois fields. The rest of the year we had to make do with frozen corn.
When Grandma Mauer had the family over for a summer dinner, little Donny helped shuck corn and pull off all the silks. It didn't seem like work back then because "I was helpin'."
At that time Grandma prepared fresh corn on the cob in one way and one way only: she boiled it. One of her secrets for the best tasting boiled corn: add a half-cup of milk to the water. The lactose (sugar) in the milk probably helped sweeten the corn. (When I boil corn, I dissolve a couple tablespoons of honey in the boiling water hoping to achieve the same goal).
Oh, and Grandma never salted the cooking water; she claimed it made the corn tough.
She and Grandpa had a unique way of eating corn as well. They used a small, sharp knife to slice open the kernels while on the cob; essentially cutting the kernels into half-rows. I've never seen anyone else ever do this.
Once the heaping platter of corn got to the table, we sliced off a pat of butter and smeared it on the ear, quickly added salt and dug in. Away from Grandma's table we just passed a stick of butter, rolling each corn ear in it and passing it along. Not pretty, but efficient.
Today, instead of butter I use a fat-free, low-calorie squeezable margarine (like Smart Beat). Some folks I knows brush warm olive oil on corn before seasoning it with salt and pepper and still others like to squeeze on a little lime juice on the corn and give it a dusting of chili powder.
With today's hybrid (not genetically engineered) corn, Florida corn that's been off the stalk for several days still can be sweet when you take a first bite. That's the sweet gene that's been bred right into the cobs.
During hot summer months I don't heat my kitchen with steam from cooking corn. Instead, I head to the grill. There's one big advantage to this besides a cool kitchen: added flavor.
There are two ways to cook corn on the cob on a grill; with or without husks. Husks protect the corn from a grill's intense heat, but essentially traps the moisture to steam the corn. The end result is not much more flavor than boiling.
Husked corn grills fast and the sugar in the kernels caramelizes, turning a nice butterscotch brown and enhancing the flavor. I don't do anything to the corn after removing the husk and silk and I wait to season the corn after it leaves the grill.
If Grandma was still with us, I'll bet she'd love grilled corn on the cob as much as I do.
• Write to Don Mauer at firstname.lastname@example.org