Iowa Corn Festivals

Fall, Heroes, In Season, Local Heroes, Summer
on May 17, 2013
Corn Festivals

In August and September, corn-loving towns swell with visitors to their annual sweet corn festivals. Some are elaborate, a little like county fairs, with carnival rides and the crowning of a festival queen; others are genuine small-town affairs with fire trucks, floats, marching bands and local dignitaries on parade. All encourage you to stuff yourself silly with corn.

Corn is a source of bragging rights for Midwesterners. It’s unbelievable to me, but some people in Wisconsin or Michigan think their state’s corn is tops. Don’t listen to them. Iowa grows the best corn, and everyone here knows it, including my 11-year-old nephew. What Iowans don’t always agree on, however, is which county grows the best corn. Or, within a county, which makeshift farm stand in which little gas-station parking lot sells the best corn. (Here in Des Moines, a friend swears by the corn sold from a blue pickup truck parked outside of the bail bonds office).

Iowans also don’t always agree on how to eat it. There are various camps. Me, I tackle an ear of corn typewriter style, click-clacking across the kernels in rows left to right. My husband does that weird circular thing, rotating the ear as he tackles it. It’s a wonder we ever got married. My friend’s kids eat in a sort of “patchwork” quilt motif.

And then, there’s how best to cook it. The official word—from the Iowa State University Extension website—is to submerge the cobs in a large pot of boiling water. “Throw in the shucked corn, and wait for the water to come back to a boil. And the corn is done!” they say. My method is a little different. I put the corn in a kettle and cover it with water. When the water reaches a full boil, I take the kettle off the heat, cover it, and let it sit 10 minutes. Yielding nubbly crisp-tender corn, this method is a little trick I learned from a friend from—of all places—New York City. I’ve heard that some people out that way think that the best corn comes from New Jersey. Needless to say, I don’t believe them.

—Wini Moranville, a food and wine writer in Des Moines, Iowa.