The month of May seems like a long time ago now, but this is when my quest to grow my own sweetcorn began. I am quietly astounded that I managed to raise 12 plants from seed to fruit in an unpredictable Scottish climate, yielding their first harvest this very week. It seems that Mother Nature’s combination of a mild spring, intermittent sunshine and showers, along with my interventions – fussing like an old mother hen, protecting the plants from the slightest breath of wind and giving them an occasional feed – has paid off.
I chose a hard variety of baby corn called Snowbaby. All varieties of sweetcorn need to develop a firm root structure in order to grow to the height they needs to produce cobs. If you take this into account from the very beginning, you will find the crop easy to grow. Pack the sowing compost firmly into compostable pots – using biodegradable pots will enable you to plant the young seedlings into the soil without disturbing the roots. From sowing the seeds at the beginning of May and keeping them sheltered in an unheated greenhouse, it took 4 weeks to develop seedlings with 5 or 6 leaves which were then ready to plant out after acclimatization.
Sweetcorn likes a nutritious, well-draining soil; a sheltered spot; plenty of sunshine, and frequent watering. I put 6 plants in an old barrel and the other 6 went in a suitable spot in the garden. Sweetcorn requires little maintenance and is virtually pest resistant. Triumphant, some 4 months later, I picked my first bunch of cobs.
The tall sweetcorn stems with their draping, long, ribbon-like leaves and fine feathery flowers make an attractive architectural plant display, and the way the baby corn cobs develop is very intriguing. The cobs form in the gap between stem and leaf. Once the cobs are large enough, the silky threads protecting the cobs inside the leaf wrapping, burst out of the tops to indicate that the baby corn cobs inside are ready to be picked. Simply twist the cobs from the stalks or snap them off outwards. Cook them quickly as they are prone to drying out, although I have kept the cobs, still wrapped in leaf, in a jug of water in the fridge for 3 or 4 days, and they stayed perfectly fresh.
Carefully strip away the outer leaves and gently pull away the silky strings to reveal the mini cob in the centre. Either steam or boil the cobs for 3-4 minutes and serve immediately. For best results, don’t salt the cooking water but add a pinch of sugar instead to bring out the sweetness. Freshly picked cobs have an earthy, sweet flavour so avoid over-seasoning in order to appreciate the difference between home-grown and mass-cultivated crops.
- Strip away a few leaves from the cob but keep a few in place so that you are able to wrap the cob up again; carefully remove the strings. Secure the remaining leaves round the cob again with string and blanch in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain well and cook over hot coals for 2-3 minutes until tender and lightly charred. Remove the string and leaves and serve as part of a barbecue feast.
- Simmer baby corn cobs in coconut milk with a little chilli and garlic and serve sprinkled with chopped coriander and toasted sesame seeds.
- Slice into chunks and stir fry with shredded leek, pak choi and chopped garlic for 3-4 minutes until tender. Dress lightly with soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and a spoonful of honey or sweet chilli sauce.
- Blanch sliced baby corn pieces for 1 minute; drain, cool and mix with cooked sweetcorn kernels, a handful of raisins, and toasted pine nuts. Dress with olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar.
No recipe pictures from me this week. I enjoyed my first harvest of freshly picked baby corn cobs steamed and served with a dollop of lightly salted butter and a sprinkling of black pepper – nothing fancy but completely and utterly delicious. I couldn’t resist taking this last picture though. I hope “she” makes you smile.