One of the things I love most about summer is corn on the cob.
My mother always features a huge platter of corn at her summer picnics, and I wait eagerly for farmers markets to drop loads of it on wooden tables, keeping the moisture in with a damp towel.
I don’t shuck my corn before buying like some, relying on my eye and the feel of the ear for signs of worms or even worse, strangely developed kernels. Nothing is more disappointing than shucking an ear only to find tiny or enormous kernels arrayed in mismatched rows. This is probably why I always buy an extra ear or two.
I’d been craving corn while on vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, where we cook in most nights. I had it all mapped out: I’d ride my bike 6 miles to Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown, and marvel at the glorious produce and spectacular bouquets. On my way out, I’d pluck four ears from the pile being carefully tended (policed?) by a store worker.
She looked at me suspiciously, as if I might start shucking right there, heaving a sigh of relief when I simply poked in the pile and plucked out four bright green ears that were cool to the touch. I put them in a brown paper bag, paid an enormous $5.60 and affixed them to the back of my bike for the ride home.
I was pleased with myself, having sourced part of my dinner while getting in some exercise. Killing two birds with one stone as the expression goes, though I’ve never really loved that imagery.
So imagine my mood when I returned home and showed the Curmudgeon my bounty. Instead of excitement, he announced: “Corn isn’t good here until August.”
Talk about a buzz kill. I ignored his statement for about an hour, as I do with his occasional pronouncements, which often sound like rules passed down from generation to generation. And then while I began shucking, I exploded.
“Who says that corn isn’t good until August?” I screamed. “The guy who runs the farm stand at home stops selling corn after Labor Day. Are you telling me it’s only good for a month?”
My outburst was met with silence, but I know where these rules come from. They’re from his father, who grew up on the island and had more rules than most exclusive country clubs. One of his funniest: a disdain for the MVY stickers people put on their cars.
When you vacation where your spouse did as a child, you never fully assimilate. Well, maybe some people do, but not me. I don’t feel confident riding the waves, diving under them at just the right time to avoid being smashed. I’m the crone who beats a hasty retreat at the sight of a huge wave, usually getting pummeled before I reach shore. And I can’t lay on the beach for hours at a time, largely under orders of my dermatologist after a brush with skin cancer in my late 40s.
His family did a lot of things as a unit on their annual two-week stay at the Vineyard every July. One of the biggest surprises of my early dating life occurred when his parents piled into the car with us to go buy fish in Menemsha. Any excursion was an excuse for family time.
This was light years away from my own family’s vacation mode: my sisters and I scattered on our two-week vacations at the Cape, giving our parents a wide berth. My father spent every day golfing with his best friend and his brother-in-law, rehashing the round over peanuts and drinks every afternoon. My mother kept busy with her sister Joan and her dear friend Lee. It was the adults and the kids, and we liked to keep it that way. We all needed a little time away from each other.
I boiled the water and threw in the corn, not expecting much given the Curmudgeon’s prediction. I turned off the burner, letting the corn rest as I cooked fat hamburgers on the grill.
I smugly pulled out four of the most buttery yellow ears, and coated them with a film of sweet butter. I took two, placing the other two on the Curmudgeon’s plate. He wolfed the corn, blessedly with little noise, before I’d finished my first.
The corn was good, not great. Sweet and crisp to the bite, but just a shade mealy or what the Curmudgeon terms “horse corn.” As it turns out, it was shipped to the Vineyard from Georgia. For really good native corn, everyone knows you must wait until August.