Sweet baby sweetcorn – growing your own baby corn and serving suggestions (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Freshly picked baby corn. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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.

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Sowing sweetcorn seeds in early May, and planting out one month later. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

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.

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Mature baby sweetcorn plants and cobs. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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Home-grown baby corn. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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.

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Preparing baby sweetcorn. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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.

Serving suggestions:

  • 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.

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My sweetcorn fairy. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Savoury courgette and corn cakes (gluten-free with dairy-free and vegan alternatives)

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Courgette and corn cakes. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

My supply of courgettes is coming to an end now. For several weeks, I’ve had a plentiful supply of produce from the four plants in grow-bags, in my greenhouse. Not only do home-grown courgettes taste delicious, I love the large, bright yellow, star-shaped flowers that the plants produce; they are a very cheery sight even on the dullest of days.

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Homegrown courgette flower and yellow, globe-shaped fruit Images: Kathryn Hawkins

These muffins are full of golden coloured ingredients and are based on a classic American cornbread recipe. Easy to make, delicious served warm, and perfect for freezing – they will only keep fresh for a couple of days, so freezing is the best option for longer storing.  The chives add a mild oniony flavour, and you could try adding a pinch of chilli flakes or some hot smoked paprika for a bit of a kick. They make a good accompaniment to a bowl of soup or stew, or just as a tasty snack on their own.

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The main ingredients. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Makes: 10

Ingredients

  • 115g gluten-free plain flour (such as Dove’s Farm)
  • 2 level teasp gluten-free baking powder (such as Dr Oetker)
  • 150g polenta or fine cornmeal
  • 1 medium egg, beaten, or 50g soft tofu, mashed
  • 225ml dairy-free milk (I used soya)
  • 50g butter or vegan margarine, melted
  • 100g cooked sweetcorn kernels
  • 150g grated courgette (yellow or green)
  • 4 tbsp. freshly chopped chives
  • 50g grated Parmesan cheese or vegan alternative, optional
  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven, gas 4). Line a 10-cup muffin tin with paper cases. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl and stir in the polenta or cornmeal. Make a well in the centre.
  2. Put the egg or tofu in the centre and pour in the milk and melted butter or margarine. Gradually mix the ingredients together until well blended, then stir in the remaining ingredients.
  3. Divide between the cases, smooth the tops and bake for 25-30 minutes until lightly golden and firm to the touch. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Best served warm.
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    Freshly baked courgette and corn cakes. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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    Ready to serve, sprinkled with fresh chive flowers. Image: Kathryn Hawkins