Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sweet Corn memories

It's here. It came Thursday morning. I was in the garden picking cucumbers when I heard the truck coming. I went up to the garage as a puzzled Dale (the UPS guy) announced "You've got a big one". "I've been expecting it," I replied.

It took an effort to get it out of the box. And it is impressive. Big all right. Maybe not as tall as I imagined, but a work of art in itself. 'Not a cup', Don keeps protesting. I don't care. I've waited and worked a long time for something like this, and I'm going to enjoy its presence atop the piano every day it's here.

Meanwhile, life seems some days as if we were living roles from a soap opera - "All my Children of the Corn." maybe. Or, "As the Corn Grows." The weather, seasonal activities and daily chores have left everyone a little tired, cranky, and a bit corny. The heat and humidity continue, and with no real relief in the forecast, some of us have resorted to submission to the corn. There must be a kernel of truth in here somewhere. Kindly lend me your ear. Too much drama?

Last Tuesday, the garden corn patch was declared 'ready'. So on that chosen day, we participated in the annual ritual of the corn. Don picked the majority of the ears on the 2 west rows. It nearly filled 2 feed bags, which was enough for the evening. Supper hit the table early, and by the time the pot was boiling, the sounds of shucks being ripped from the ears had ceased.

Don took his usual place in the processing line, moving the corn from blanching pot to the cooling sink, then on to the drainer. I do the cutting. It wasn't long before the needed motion came back to me. And a wave of nostalgia overcame me.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who remembers the days of childhood of 'putting up corn'. It was a signpost of summer, a forecast in itself that even though the days were hot and humid, relief was not far off, as the nights would soon be cooling. That the County Fair was likely only days away, and school would be right after.

It was often a social affair. Seldom was there not a newly married, new to the community, or otherwise 'cornless' acquaintance not to be invited to join in the affair. All it took was a couple more bags of corn to be brought in from the field. Always a BYOK affair. (bring your own knife)

The older children were always expected to help. The youngest carried ears to and fro. Once you were tall enough to see into the pot, you moved up to Blancher. After that, to Bagger. Only the adults were allowed to do the cutting. Especially my mother, who for as long as I can remember, never used a common knife.

I remember it clearly to this day - the white plastic stand with the single blade sucurely suspended above the small platform. A genuine original 'corn cutter', bought long before me, so it was told, at some county or State Fair. Others scoffed at it, but any who witnessed the simple contraption in my mothers hands were awed. I was. She had a talent with that thing. (Which we were NEVER to touch) A 9 in ear was separated into golden kernels and pale soft cob with 6 deft strokes. Eight, if it was a big one. I was always drawn in to watch and listen. The action was simple. Stroke, turn, stroke, turn. Repeat as necessary. The sharp thin blade sang. Pbbbbbth, thump, Pbbbbbth, thump, pbbbbth, thump, pbbbbbth, and a mmmmpth of the empty cob in the bucket.

And hear I was, 50 years later, my hands now pressing the ears to the blade, but the song of the kernels the same. I clearly heard my mothers words 'You're cooking it.' and, 'Change the water - this ears still hot'. But wait - it was my voice, and directed at my mate. And, I have a new cutter. Mine is orange, and I'm not sure if the 'improved' design really is.

Times past, a good corn day's count would be 50, 100, or even 150 bags in the freezer. Ours was 25. But we don't eat that much corn these days.

But my thoughts were a bit disturbing. Will the next generation remember the corn? I'm not sure my own children do, and that would be partially my fault. Because in the name of sanity and convenience, we altered the service. When the kids were small, and no help was available, Don and I had to compromise the ritual. He would stop at the donated field one afternoon after work, and the corn filled bags would come home. Corn shucked, and kitchen readied, the blanching pot would be ready by dusk as the little ones were put to bed. Then the cutting would begin, hopefully as the evening breeze from the open window cooled the kitchen as we worked into the night. The system worked well, but I question it now. Did they miss something?

Maybe I can make it up with the next generation. It won't be long until Braydon and Aurora, and then Harper will be old enough to carry the corn. Then tall enough to be a 'Blancher'. And know the irresistible temptation of the golden kernels clinging to each other in rows and clumps, slyly eaten at will until the nausea sets in. And they can count the bags, all full and flat and yellow with the goodness of the corn. I look forward to that Grand -mothering day.

So regardless of the sweat soaked shirts and muddy boots, the corn grows on. And we all in Nebraska become the children of the corn. And yes, there are still the east rows of the corn.

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