Sunday, July 21, 2013

Shucking Corn

My dad grows the sweetest corn you can ever eat.  Jennifer put up one small bushel load a few weeks ago.  We ate fresh cream corn on the nights she put it up.  It was heavenly that something this fresh and organic and good for you could taste so spritely sweet.

A few days ago my dad brought over a second bushel or something close to a bushel.  It was in a huge red plastic tub that was cracked on one side.   He left it sitting in my carport.  My daughter was given the task of tackling her first bushel of corn.  She's had an easy life of being committed only to school, art, and athletics so far.

First of all, she predictably slept late and started shucking the corn in the early afternoon.  It was a bit over 90 degrees here that day with heavy humidity and a chance of afternoon thunderstorms.  She quickly started sweating as she shucked.  After a few ears, after dealing with the worms and the bug-eaten tips, after wrestling with the heavy silk trying to pick it off (her mother was not here to give her a silking brush and my daughter did not know where such a device might be in our house), after all that in just a few ears she quit and went back inside the A/C and had a coke.  When I got home she was playing X-box with her new boyfriend.  Pitiful.

First of all, you don't shuck corn in the heat of the day.  You do it in the early morning when the dew is still on the ground.  Or you do it in the cool of the evening just before sunset, so there is still summer light out,  you can still see but the heat is dissipating.  Dad preferred to do it in the morning.  That way you had time to pick, shuck, cut, blanch and freeze it during the course of the day.  There were many mornings I was gotten out of bed to go down to the garden and help pick ears from the dewy, itchy wet stalks.

If we did it in the evening then mom would help.  My sister mostly played and stayed out of the way.  My brother wasn't born yet.  Evening sessions were somewhat more relaxed, end of the day affairs.  Dad or mom would tell some funny story about something that happened recently either to themselves or to someone else in the family I knew.  Someone might occasionally stop by and talk with my parents as we shucked the corn.  I didn't say much and was generally miserable with my chore.  All that talk by others helped the time go by though.  We used to shuck two or three bushels by dark that way.   It would usually be around a weekend so mom and dad could cut the corn for putting up.  The natural juices from the cut cobs ran into the large pans and made the end result smooth and juicy and, of course, sweet.

I never cut the corn as a kid or teen.  My parents might have given me a try at it at some point but I was probably too slow for the productivity necessary to transform two bushels of raw corn into freezer bags full cream corn in one day.  My only experience with cutting corn came after dad brought over a gigantic wooden power cable spool when he used to work for the electric company.  He was the man who put the poles in the ground with a large utility truck he drove.  That's how he made a living for about 20 years, some of which was after Jennifer and I built on our present property.  We had owned the house only for a year or two and he thought the heavy wooden spool could be turned on its side and made into a table, which we did, just behind our pole barn under a large pine tree that we have now long since cut.  It was on the side of that spool I cut most of the corn I ever have in my life.  It is a messy business with piece of corn and cob and juice occasionally flying.  We had the luxury of not worrying about the mess, however.  The rain would eventually wash off the spool on the edge of our woods.  It lasted 5-6 years before rotting and having to be hauled off in pieces.

The funny thing was my dad just assumed we wanted the makeshift table monstrosity.  He just showed up with it one day with sort of the attitude that we'd be out of our minds not to take advantage of this outdoor utility furniture opportunity.  We didn't want it or like it at first, but I can still see him in the sunshine rolling the enormous spindle off a flat bed truck and letting land with a deep thumb on our gravel driveway.  He and I rolled it up a slight slope to get it under the pine tree that isn't there anymore.

Anyway, the evening of the hot day when my daughter was tackled by a small bushel of corn she had a tennis match.  She plays in a competitive 18+ league.  So my wife and the new boyfriend went off to watch her play a match.  I don't often watch my daughter play tennis.  She is very good and I admire her skill but it is like putting a muzzle on a dog.  I loved watching my daughter play softball and yelled both for her and at the umpires.  But in tennis you don't ever yell.  You can pump your fist but even that has to be limited and subdued.  The only acceptable fan response in tennis is applause and a rare shout of encouragement to your player.  The restraint frustrates me to no end.  So I have only seen my daughter play tennis a handful of times in the last couple of years.

Instead I stayed home with the dog as I prefer to do.  I waited for the sun to near setting and the day to cool down a bit.  Then I took our dog Charlie for a walk to the upper field.  I came back and picked out the largest ears and shucked a mess for Jennifer to put up.  Shucking can be a form of meditation.  Just repeat yourself over and over with subtle variations.  The peeling of the leafy green and yellow husk, the breaking of the stalk stem, hand silking awhile, sometimes you snap off the tips if they are too badly eaten, sometimes the ear is fine.  Sit your shucked ears together for more refined silking.  Do that over and over and get yourself in a rhythm.  It can very easily be a flow experience.  In this case the chore brought back the above memories as the cicadas started their voluminous, crackling song in my woods.

And I was delighted by the clarity of things I had not thought about in years.   Wonder is discovered in the sudden recall of things we already knew just as often as in newly discovered things.

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