The Harvest Moon made a dramatic appearance last night. Also called the Full Corn Moon, the full moon closest to the Autumn Equinox was said by Native Americans to mark the best time for harvesting corn. (According to the Farmers Almanac, “At the peak of harvest, farmers can work late into the night by the light of this Moon.”)
All of which is serendipitous timing from my standpoint, as I’m in southwestern Colorado listening to heated debates over the merits of Olathe Sweet Corn vs. Abundant Life Corn at the Telluride Farmers Market each week.
Olathe is a one-square-mile town, between the airport towns of Montrose and Grand Junction. It has 1,500 residents, a lot more corn stalks, and an annual Sweet Corn Festival that residents are very proud of. Abundant Life is a family-run farm, connected to the Abundant Life Church, in Hotchkiss, CO, a well-known agricultural area centered by Paonia, CO. Hotchkiss and Olathe are only 32 miles apart, but to hear the folks at Abundant Life talk about corn, they are in different universes.
I’ve been a fan of Olathe corn -- pale yellow, tender, super sweet -- for decades. I made the acquaintance of the Abundant Life operation last week at the Farmers Market in Telluride. I paid a buck an ear for their corn -- which they say is organic and hand-harvested -- and it was delicious. Yesterday I bought Olathe corn -- granted, a more commercial operation -- at the Montrose supermarket, 10 miles from Olathe. I paid 33 cents an ear and it was delicious. Clearly I’m not one of the folks involved in the heated arguments. To me, fresh, local, just-picked corn is one of the best parts of summer and I’ll take it any way I can get it.
(To be honest, though, I think Chino’s corn in Rancho Santa Fe north of San Diego is the best of all, followed very closely by any ear that grows in New Jersey!)
Awash in corn, I decided to play with a new contraption by Kuhn Rikon that's designed to separate kernels from the cob a lot more safely than the standard knife approach. The Corn Twister is attractive, easy to clean, and amazingly fast. The hidden “teeth” whipped through a cob in seconds, releasing all the precious “milk” along with the kernels. It works best with slim ears. The heftier ears require a bit of elbow grease when the teeth get to the wide part of the cob.
The Corn Twister costs about $16 at Sur La Table and other kitchen emporiums as well as at Amazon.com. (Food-lovers in my town of La Jolla, CA will be happy to hear that a new Sur La Table, with an extensive calendar of classes, opened recently on Girard.)
I twisted my way through four ears of corn to make this easy but elegant dish, from a New York Times recipe. The chicken “cutlets” had a very fine crust thanks to the Dijon and flour; the “salad,” with yellow squash, lemon juice, jalapeno and cilantro was a celebration of summer.
CHICKEN PAILLARDS WITH CORN SALAD
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 skinless and boneless chicken breasts, about 1 1/4 pounds, pounded thin
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 ears corn, kernels stripped
1 jalapeño chile, seeded and minced
1 medium-size yellow summer squash, diced
Salt and ground black pepper
1 medium yellow tomato, diced
1/3 cup flour
2 tablespoons minced cilantro leaves
Mix mustard and 1/4 cup lemon juice in a shallow dish. Cut each chicken breast in half, place in the mustard mixture, turn to coat both sides and set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet, add onion and sauté on low a few minutes, until softened. Add corn, chile and squash and continue to cook until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat, fold in tomato, add 1 tablespoon lemon juice and set aside.
Remove chicken from marinade and dust with flour. Heat remaining oil in a large cast-iron skillet or grill pan on medium-high heat and sear chicken, turning once, until lightly browned and just cooked through, about 5 minutes a side. Arrange on a serving platter. Add cooking oil to salad, fold in cilantro and spoon over and around chicken.