In August 2007, our family returned our annual trip to Iowa to harvest sweet corn and freeze it for using during our cold hard winter.
I'd been saying for a long time that we needed to document this process, so I finally got around to doing it.
I've enjoyed reading articles on the site www.wikihow.com, so I decided to post
this information on that site. A Wiki is intended to be a collaborative effort
where anyone can edit the content. Within 24 hours of posting the article, four
or five people had edited it and changed much of the content. The How-To site is
intended to be an instructional site, so the editors there removed all of my
attempts at humor and personal references. The funniest change was the person
who changed my reference from the "Iowa Farmboy" to the "Iowa Farm person". It's
been a fascinating experience so far.
Check out the current state of the article at http://www.wikihow.com/Freeze-Corn.
It's not really my article any more as it's been edited many times by many different people,
but it's interesting to see the metamorphosis (I still like mine better!!).
The article was featured as the How-To of the Day on Google on August 22nd, 2007,
and as of February 2017 is up over 464,000 page views - WOW!
Don't you love the taste of fresh sweet corn? It's too bad it's only available a few weeks out of the year. However, if you know the secrets passed down by generations of farmers, you can enjoy that fresh taste all year long.
Picking corn always seems to start early in the morning. When you go out to pick corn from the field, it's always early in the morning. When you walk through the corn field, the dew is still on the grass and on the corn stalks. That way you can save time and conserve hot water by getting your morning shower while you get the corn picked.
To get to the corn, you step over the electric fence (keeps the coons away), and walk out into the field, finding the ears that are just right. You've only got a short period of time between when the corn is too small to be edible and when it's too big to be edible. (Of course, everybody's got their own definition of what's too big to be edible!) So when it's just right, you've got to get out there in the next day or two, or it's just too late. You can determine if it's just right by shaking hands with the corn. If the corn cob fills your hand nicely and the silk on the top is brown, it's ready to pick. If it feels too scrawny, you leave it for another day.
Once you've picked enough corn to keep you busy all day (we figure about 500 ears of corn will do it), then you have a seat and take all the husks off. Don't forget to keep watch over your newly harvested bounty -- there are always critters on the farm that are looking for the easy mark that will take your fresh corn away from you if you're not looking.
Now that the corn's been harvested, it's time to clean it up a bit. Unless of course you're the type of person that doesn't mind a bit of silky natural floss stuck between your teeth when you're done eating. It's best when you get the corn all clean and shiny with none of the little silky hairs sticking to it.
This is kind of a painstaking and sticky job. We usually keep a bowl of water on the table while we're working to dip our hands into, otherwise you end up acting like Spiderman with everything you touch sticking to your hands.
Now that the corn's all clean, you're ready to move into the kitchen. Here's our day's harvest (all 500 ears) all ready to be cooked.
Not everyone does it this way, but we like to blanch our corn. For those of you without the Iowa Farmboy's culinary expertise, that means you put the corn in the water, put the lid on, then you look the other way while you bring the water to a rolling boil. You have to look the other way because (as everybody knows) a watched pot never boils.
Once you take out one batch and put in the next, the fresh corn cools the water down a bit and you have to start over again, so it takes about 5-10 minutes to boil each batch.
Once it's boiling, take the corn out and then you need to cool it down quickly.
This is the step that separates the men from the boys. You've got to cool the corn quickly. That's easy if you're doing 10 ears of corn. But how do you cool 500 ears of corn in a row? If you just put it in the water, the water gets warm and loses its cooling ability. You can put ice in the water, or you can keep changing the water, but both of those methods are for the city slickers.
My father-in-law Darell was an engineering master. He figured out the best solution to this that I've ever seen, and he did it with two dollars worth of old leftover plumbing parts. Simple as 1-2-3. (Once you know the secret!) The right side of the sink is for the hot ears just off the stove. The left side of the sink is where the cold ears of corn finish up.
Cold water trickles in from the faucet into the left hand side of the sink (#1). The magic happens in part 2, which is just a simple upside-down U-shaped pipe that acts as a siphon to move the cold water from the left side to the right side. You start by dunking these pipes under the water to get all the air bubbles out of them, putting your thumbs over the ends of the pipes to hold the water in, then put it over the divider in the sink. If you've done it right, the pipes are still full of water. Now when the water in the left side is higher than the right side, it will flow through the pipes and into the right hand side. The second little bit of magic is the overflow pipe in the right hand sink (#3). We've got an S-shaped piece of copper tubing which stands up in the sink just short of the top and it runs down into the drain. When the water gets higher than the top of the pipe, it spills down into the pipe and goes down the drain.
So now we've created a waterfall type of system where cold water enters a point 1, moves through the pipes in point 2, then exits at point 3. By the time it exits in point 3, it's actually pretty warm water because you keep dumping the boiling corn into that side.
Let's see it in action.
When you remove the boiling corn from the stove, dump it in the right hand side of the sink. The water will be quite warm, but you'll have a continuous trickle of cool water coming through the siphon pipes. Someone gets the job of agitating the corn by stirring it around in the sink. Usually that's the youngest person, although sometimes it's just the tired-est person.
Once the person cooking on the stove is ready to remove their corn, the agitator removes the cold corn from the left side of the sink and sends that on to the next step, then they move the warm corn from the right side to the left side of the sink.
The hot corn from the stove is then dumped in to the lukewarm water on the right side of the sink.
Once the corn has been blanched and cooled so that the ears are cool to the touch, you cut the corn off the cob. This takes a little feel so that you get enough corn without getting too much of the cob. This one is probably the most highly skilled of positions in the process and takes some practice.
Once the corn is off the cob, we put it into cake pans for even more cooling. Cake pans seem to work well because they spread out the corn and transfer the heat nicely.
To do this right, you'll need about 6-8 cake pans and a completely empty refrigerator. We put the pans into the freezer of an old refrigerator, then move them from the freezer down on to the shelves of the refrigerator.
Once the pans of corn are completely cooled, we're almost done - all that's left is to package the corn up for final freezing. We usually use quart and pint Ziploc baggies. You don't want them totally full, just enough so you can close them easily and then flatten them out so they store easily. A quart baggie is about enough for one meal for 4-5 people, and a pint baggie works well for 2 people.
All that's left now is the last step of cleanup - taking out the garbage and mopping the floor.
To cook the frozen corn, take the bag out of the microwave and put it into a covered glass dish. Microwave a quart bag for about 6-8 minutes. Add some butter and salt to taste and you'll have fresh tasting corn in minutes.
Our 500 ears of corn yielded about 63 quart bags of frozen corn. It takes four or five people about eight hours to do the entire process, and you end up enough to provide an entire family with corn for most of the year. Even though it sounds like a lot of work, it's a process that's been passed down for several generations, and once your kids learn how, they will always want to be there to help out if possible.