Aug. 4 2023 08:00 AM

As I enjoy this season’s fresh sweet corn, I think back on my family’s annual tradition of harvesting, preparing, and freezing large quantities of this summer treat.

This photo was taken about 20 years ago while my siblings and I worked with my grandparents as we husked, silked, and cut up sweet corn one summer day.

One of the annual summer staples around here — best served up slathered in butter and a good sprinkling of salt, in my opinion — is homegrown sweet corn. Every year around this time, our farm’s sweet corn patch is ready for harvest, which means a few ears of corn served up with every meal and at least one day dedicated to freezing it to enjoy year-round.

If you drive around Iowa in early August, I can almost guarantee you’ll come across a roadside stand or parked pickup truck selling ears of sweet corn by the dozen. There are ample opportunities to indulge in this hearty summertime treat, whether you pick up a few ears from fresh, locally sourced bins in the grocery stores, receive a couple bags worth from your neighbor, come across a local farmer selling it, or have your own field or garden to pick from on demand.

No matter how those sweet corn ears make it into your kitchen, they’re surely a delicious side to your next family meal. I have many fond memories with my family that include sweet corn. As we sat around the dinner table each summer, we ended up with empty cobs heaped on our plates that made it almost a contest to see how many we could eat.

We also always had at least one full day set aside to cook and freeze a ton of sweet corn to enjoy throughout the year, especially at holidays. These days included the whole family, including my three siblings, parents, and grandparents as we set up a workstation in a shaded area of our yard.

In the coolness of the morning, we all headed into the rows of sweet corn with 5-gallon pails or plastic bags to pick as many ripe ears as we could find. We’d fill four-wheeler wagons to the brim with our harvested ears of corn, sometimes coming back for a second or third load later in the day. Then, we all picked a spot in the shade — spread amongst picnic tables, lawn chairs, the seat of the four-wheeler, or the tailgate of the pickup truck — and determined what role we would play in the preparation of the sweet corn. Some of us would get busy removing the husk from each ear, which we later dumped to the milk cows for a tasty treat, while others focused on removing all the silk from each ear so it could get cut. Usually my mom and one or both of my grandmas set up shop with empty cake pans and bowls at the picnic table to cut all the kernels off each ear, being sure to do a last swipe along the cob to get the juice off the ear as well.

As more and more pans were filled with the glorious raw corn kernels, a few of us started work in the kitchen of my parents’ farmhouse. We cooked endless batches of freezer corn using the stove top (plus a lot of butter, sugar, and salt, of course). Once each batch was cooked, we put it into a clean pan to cool before we packaged them into smaller containers and freezer bags. Lastly, we would label every container with the year and carefully stacked them in the deep freezer to be enjoyed at a later date.

As you can tell from my detailed description above, I participated in many summer days freezing sweet corn. While it was a lot of work, the memories of doing it alongside some of my favorite people and then later enjoying it around the dinner table bring about a flood of nostalgia and fond thoughts. Now, excuse me while I go cook up a few ears to eat with our supper tonight.

Molly Ihde (Schmitt)

The author dairy farms with her parents and brother near Hawkeye, Iowa. The family milks approximately 300 head of grade Holstein cows at Windsor Valley Dairy LLC — split half and half between a double-eight parallel milking parlor and four robotic milking units. In the spring of 2020, Molly decided to take a leap and fully embrace her love for the industry by returning full time to her family’s dairy.