October 16, 2021

A kernel of hope yields an ear full

I love corn.

Every year I thought how I would love to grow corn.

So I would search the catalogs for a corn variety that I thought would be “the one.”

I’d buy “the one” and duly plant it.

And that would just about be that. Rarely would I get anything even resembling an ear. I was lucky if I got a decent stalk.

I finally gave up on the full-size corn varieties, heirloom or not. I started planting a variety that was supposed to do well as baby corn, the kind used in Asian cuisine.

I could live with that, I thought.

Well, it didn’t want to live with me.

The ears were either nonexistent or somehow managed to evade my notice until a person would have required an iron jaw to chew through the cob, albeit a baby-sized cob.

So after a few years of trying that, I gave up.

Gone was my dream of a pot of corn so fresh it would make you weep with joy.

Gone was the fantasy of stripping the ears and picking off the silk whilst humming with the bees at garden’s edge.

Gone was the illusion of the sweet burst of flavor from a steaming, buttered ear on a late summer evening.

Gone, gone, gone.

Instead, I hastened through the corn sections of every catalog, scoffing at the pictures.

Ha! I thought.

Little did I know a kernel of hope remained deep in my heart.

Last winter as I worked my way through the Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog, I found myself eyeing the corn pages. I scanned the descriptions, snickering silently as I thought what a waste of space corn was.

It was then that the proverbial light shone down as I lingered over the description of a variety with enough abbreviations and notations after its name to warrant it a Ph.D or an honorary knighthood.

But it didn’t scare me, unless that whole too-good-to-be-true thing could be considered scary.

The corn was Fleet F1 (se) Nat II.

Yikes. But the catalog entry had my corny dream rising from the compost.

This hybrid (F1) bicolor sweet corn didn’t mind cooler soils found in more northerly climes. It tended to grow a mere five feet tall and produced a single 71/2-inch-long ear. Even if you planted in May, you might not see a crop before a crop from the same seeds planted in warmer June soil. Only about 66 days were needed to get a crop. And the Nat II part was some sort of organic compound coating the seeds to help them withstand the rigors of cold soil.

Don’t get me started on the (se) thing. Let’s just say Fleet was sugary enhanced, not supersweet, synergistic, normal sugary or even the mind-boggling “shrunken.” I’m guessing one would need to have a few pots full of each one and taste-test each to know the difference.

Meanwhile I couldn’t grow a single ear to tempt a raccoon, let alone run a taste test.

While my head was pondering the intricacies of sweetness, my heart was prodding me to write down the page and variety on my wish list.

It didn’t mean I had to order it.

But I did.

Knowing myself a fool, I spent several dollars for a packet.

I chided myself when the seeds arrived, on planting day and even after the plants emerged in late June. What chance would they have, I kept thinking.

As summer progressed, the stalks kept growing. Even in the rainy spell that doomed my tomatoes, upward grew the corn.

Then the tassels appeared. The stalks were more than five feet tall.

And still it grew, until I saw silk developing on nearly every stalk.

I watched and worried. I suspected raccoons would ravage the rows before I could harvest anything.

I nearly wept when I saw that the pole beans had toppled into my wee corn experiment. After getting the beans back up, I had to string the corn up, too.

And still it grew.

As the end of August neared, I knew the time had come to pick a likely looking ear topped with a poof of brown silk.

For the first time in longer than I can recall, I held in my hands a normal ear of corn.

Grown in my garden, of all places.

I picked enough for a “feed” and shucked it right at the garden’s edge before whisking it into the house for dinner. It couldn’t have been fresher had I boiled it while still on the stalk.

The flavor was delicate and nicely sweet. I could have eaten the whole pot by myself.

I repeated the exercise twice over the next couple of weeks, berating myself for not planting more, even though almost every single stalk produced an ear.

Sweet Fleet.

Maybe – just maybe – this is “the one.”



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