The Olathe Sweet Corn Festiva
l is more than fun in the western Colorado sunshine. It is an ever-growing symbol of a community committed to making the future better for the generations to come.
In 1992, a few insightful people in the small western Colorado town of Olathe, decided to celebrate the community's agricultural jewel... "Olathe Sweet" sweet corn, by organizing the first Olathe Sweet Corn Festival. This hometown crop was and continues to be more than just another of the many agriculture products of the region. Sweet corn is the crop that has kept this rural American community alive when other efforts were failing.
Sweet corn is
called Indian corn,
sugar corn, and pole corn) is a variety of maize with a high sugar content. Unlike field corn varieties, which are harvested when the kernels are dry and mature , sweet corn is picked when immature and prepared and eaten as a vegetable,
rather than a grain. Since the process of maturation involves converting sugar to starch, sweet corn stores poorly and must be eaten fresh, canned, or frozen, before the kernels become tough and starchy.
Growing up in the 1950's leaves me with many memories of "putting up corn." The window of opportunity to gather corn at the proper time was short. Any other plans were simply discarded and when the corn was "ready" it had to be gathered and prepared for freezing or canning. It never got ready on a Sunday though.....always on another day.
The day would start with gathering the corn. Corn would be checked each day by watching the color of the tassels or silk and peeling back a little bit of the shuck. The corn would be ready if the kernels were filled out sufficiently and there was a pop of milk when a kernel was pressed with a fingernail. The corn had to be just right......if there wasn't much milk, you had waited a little too long or if the kernel was tough or too deep a yellow color. "Ready" corn would be pale yellow in color, so tender, brown tassels on the outside of the shuck, but silks fresh and shiny still clinging to the corn on the inside.
Corn would be pulled from the stalk and collected in big baskets, buckets, piled into the pickup bed or trailer on the back of the tractor. The corn would then be carried to the house and left outside underneath the largest shade tree. Putting up corn was a hot and messy job.
Preparation would start with shucking the corn. Course this depending on how you were putting the corn up. If it was to be cut off and frozen or canned, all the shuck had to be removed. The photo on the left of shucking corn is from recipetips.com
. Click on their link to see the whole shucking, silking process.
Sometimes corn was prepared to be put up as corn on the cob and most of the outer layers of shuck were removed and both ends cut off. Then individual ears would be wrapped in foil and placed in the freezer just like that. When you were ready to fix corn on the cob later, you had to remove the rest of the shuck and silk that would still be adhered to the corn. Most of the time our sweet corn was cut off the cob for freezing or canning.
Once the complete shuck was removed, then the silks had to be removed. This was done by hand or using a soft brush. Sometimes a soft rag rubbed over the cob would help. Occasionally you might find a worm embedded at the top of the cob, this part would simply be cut off. The end of the cob would also be cut off. Ears would be left long for cutting the kernels off, or cut or broken into if to be frozen for corn on the cob.
Cutting off the kernels was something that the adults usually did. There is a trick to it. The kernels have to be cut at just the right depth. Maybe just a little more than the tip of the kernel. The cob would be stood on it's end, inside a large dishpan. Cutting corn off the cob is a splattering mess. With the cob on its end, a sharp knife would be run down the length of the cob just skimming off the kernels. This would be repeated around the entire cob. Once the kernels were cut, then the knife would be scraped up and down the cob to get the remaining tender pieces and the milky juice. If you cut the kernels too deep, you would cut into the cob and that was a no no. Thus the reason for the adults cutting the corn off the cob. As I grew older I finally was mature enough to manage this......what a great day.......now I could tell the little brother.......YOU have to wash the jars)))))
Washing the canning jars was a task always assigned to the kids to start with. Mason jars in quart and pint size were opened throughout the year and their contents consumed - corn, green beans, tomatoes, peas, butter beans, pickles, peaches and so forth. Once the jars were emptied during cooking, they were washed and placed under the sink or in a cabinet. At some point, too many would collect and have to be carried outside to a shed, well house, barn, carport closet etc.
Jars were kept from year to year. You never wanted to be caught throwing away a glass jar that could be used for canning....... Mason jars were the best, sometimes a Kerr would show up and a really, really long time ago there might be a blue one. And, although everyone said don't do it.....sometimes leftover mayonnaise jars were used for canning. But, these were never used in the pressure cooker......only a boiling water bath because a broken canning jar really was dangerous with its hot contents. I can remember my mother taking jars from the pressure cooker canner when they had finished and making us all stand way back.....way back as she took the hot jars out and set them in the floor on a towel to cool or counter-top. Once the jars were removed from the canner, the bands were tightened and the jar left to seal. The jars would be sitting all around and as they started to cool you would start to hear a little "pop" as they sealed. After they had all cooled, they would be checked for sealing by pressing on the flat with your thumb. Tops consisted of a flat and a band. Bands were reusable, but not flats.....not for canning anyway. Any jar that hadn't sealed, would be placed in the refrigerator for use in the next day or two. The bands were not usually removed until at least the next day so as not to disturb the seal. I can remember my mother saying to my daddy....."go to the store and get some flats.....I've got bands..." Not a phrase that has been used in my household.....but I have done some canning since I married, but very little. One year mother got a new pressure canner......and we hunted for stuff to can. Everything got canned that year.....corn, peas, butter beans, little whole potatoes, tomatoes, vegetable soup, green beans, pickles, plums, and probably more.......if you were standing still you were in danger of being canned! I've heard my daddy talk about some people canning sausage......but canning meat wasn't anything that was ever tried at our house.....too dangerous I think. You have to be careful with home canned foods of course and dispose anything that has lost it's seal.
Back to the task of washing the jars. When corn was to be prepared or other vegetable that was going into jars, the first thing was to start gathering up the jars for washing. Boxes of dusty, gritty jars would be retrieved from the storage place and a big metal tub filled with soapy water. Rags and a "peach tree limb" were required. Now, peach trees normally provided sweet luscious peaches, but they also gave up their limbs for more less tasty purposes. "Go get a limb off the peach tree...." You knew you were either fixing to have to wash jars.....or worse than that.....you were fixing to get a whipping! Never did you have to get a limb for someone ELSE to get a whipping. The whippee
had to get his own limb...... Limbs for washing jars would need to be sturdy, limbs for whipping were thinner so they could inflict more pain I guess.....we really didn't get too many whippings at home.....most of the time just the dreaded words of "go get a limb off the peach tree" were enough to change an attitude alone.
The jars would have their first washing done by the youngest in the family with a little supervision by the adults. This mostly was to get the dirt dobbers, cobwebs, bugs, and dirt out of the jars . Then they would go to the house for the real washing in hot soapy water then a boiling water bath. They had to be sparkling clean for canning.
Sometimes we kids had to just stand around and fan the flies to keep them off the corn during the shucking, silking and cutting process. All this was done outside, sometimes on the back porch if there just wasn't a shade anywhere. Never in the house though, too messy.
If the corn was going in the freezer, once it was all cut off, it was poured into a metal dishpan and some water added to it. It was placed on the stove and cooked for a while, stirring frequently to keep it from sticking. You had to be really careful that it didn't scorch. I don't know how long it cooked but it turned a little darker in color and thickened up some. At that point it was left to cool a little and then dipped by cupfuls and poured into plastic bags for the freezer. Once the bags were filled, twist ties were used to close the bag.....no Zip Lok at that point in time)))
Once the bags were closed they were placed into the sink filled with ice water or large dishpans with water and ice until they cooled down enough to go in the freezer. Sometimes we dated the bags, but not always. Usually food in the freezer didn't last long enough to worry about the date it was prepared.
Corn to be canned was spooned into clean, sterilized jars, usually pints. I think some water was added, but I don't know how much. Jars couldn't be overfilled, you had to allow room for boiling within the jar. Flat and bands were applied, though bands were not tightened completely. Then they were placed in the pressure canner. Some water would be in the bottom and the jars set over inside the canner in a rack. The pressure canner on the left looks much like my mother and grandmother's. Scary looking isn't it! Just wait though until it heats up, starts jiggling and letting off a little steam.....really scary! There is a gauge that has to be watched and you never, never, try to remove the lid until the pressure and steam has been released. It's all manageable, but you have to appreciate the potential for accidents.
Well this blog entry started out as a mention of our Corn Christmas ornaments that could be used as a keepsake for the Olathe
Sweet Corn Festival.......guess I got to reminiscing about the old days and got off track. Not that I'm yearning to get out in the backyard and put up a mess of corn! No thank you. Yes, it's good. But honestly I really don't think it's any better than the frozen corn that comes in a tube that we have today. It's good, very good. But I'm glad to know that I could
do it if I had too.
This Yellow Corn Christmas ornament from Inge-Glas of Germany, looks more like the sweet or field corn of my summers. We have other corn on the cob ornaments from Old World Christmas and Inge-Glas, but they have more of a harvest corn style look.
If you're interested in learning more about canning......get a Ball Blue Book.....my mother swore by it)))