While the official start of summer may be more than a month away and the unofficial start of the summer grilling season isn’t for a couple more week, any warm afternoon is a great excuse to fire up the backyard grill. Cooking over an open fire, be it charcoal, gas or wood, gives us a sense of culinary primal pleasure. While I love a Five-Star restaurant as much as the next guy, nothing compares to a backyard barbecue.
This year Hubby and I began a new project – a garden. We’re starting slow – just the usual garden fare – tomatoes, a few basic herbs, an assortment of peppers and two very large tomatillo plants. Agriculture abound all around us. The soil is rich and fertile. Last summer we benefited from a poorly maintained garden (left by the prior occupant) that produced tomatoes until late October despite the fact that the bed was overgrown with weeds and received no water. Now that we’ve settled in and I’m retired full-time, we wanted to get back to the simple pleasures of home life. Gardening is one of those pleasures. Next year we are going to do even more with the side yard – expand the garden to include asparagus, summer and winter squash, corn and a few more seasonal herb beds.
Up until about nine months ago, we lived further north – in the central valley. Up until a few years ago, corn could only be had at one place – and that was Sloughhouse. Oh sure, you could get corn from the grocery store or road side stands up and down the valley, but there was something about the soil in of the Sloughhouse that produced corn so sweet nothing else compared. That was once upon a time. You had to make the short trip over the hill early in the morning to get your corn from a make-shift roadside stand. Sloughhouse valley is small, just a wide flat spot between two hills with Deer Creek to the north and the Consumnes River to the south. The ground is rich and fertile. This tiny valley was once home to hop fields as far as the eye could see. That and corn – the best corn for miles and miles. Sloughhouse corn was fresh picked that morning, and once those golden ears were gone, that was it for the day. Over the years, the reputation of Sloughhouse corn grew as did the roadside stand. Today it’s a bustling farmer’s market offering produce grown outside the small valley. For the most part, that’s okay since so much of the neighboring land is equally rich farm land. Unfortunately, the corn grown outside of Sloughhouse isn’t nearly as sweet and not as fresh since some of the corn in trucked in to meet the ever-increasing demand. My feeling about produce is this – the absolute best is that which is grown in your own back yard (or field if you are that lucky), followed by small farmers with roadside stands, and then farmers markets with locally grown. The bigger the production, the less “farm fresh” flavor. So while Sloughhouse corn might not be the corn of my childhood, it still beats the pants off supermarket, mass-produced corn. I can’t wait until next year, when our backyard garden is complete. In the meantime, we can still shop the farmer’s markets for good corn.
If spicy butter on your corn isn’t your thing, you can always skip that part of the recipe. There are times when we grill up the corn but serve it in the usual way – with a pat of sweet butter and a sprinkling of sea salt. The tender, slightly smokey goodness of the corn is fine on its own.
Soaking the corn in water for 30 minutes prior to grilling is a must that should not be skipped. The husks will soak in the water, preventing them from burning. The extra water allows the corn to steam it the husks on the grill, enriching all that wholesome corn goodness.
Grilled Corn on the Cob with Spicy Garlic Butter
Ingredients – Corn
8 ears corn, in husks
4 fresh limes, quartered
2 tablespoons chopped chives, for garnish
Remove thick outer husks from the corn, leaving several layers of the thinner, pale husks in tact.
Peel back these layers of husks from the corn without removing them from the ears. Remove the silks, rinse ears and recover the corn with the husk. Secure husks with kitchen twine. Place ears of corn in a large pot of cold water. Let soak for at least 30 minutes. (The kernels will absorb some of the water, allowing them to steam in their husks when placed on the grill.)
While corn is soaking, make spicy butter.
Ingredients – Spicy Garlic Butter
2 sticks unsalted butter, slightly softened
8 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
¼ Habanero pepper, seeded
¼ bunch fresh chives
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Combine butter, garlic, Habanero, and chives in a food processor and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside until ready to use.
When ready to grill, remove corn from water and shake off excess. Place the corn on the grill, directly over fire; close the cover and grill. Check and turn periodically. If husks begin to burn, transfer ears and continue to cook using an indirect method. Grill for about 20 to 30 minutes. Corn should be firm but tender when properly grilled.
When corn is cooked, unwrap and brush with the garlic butter. Sprinkle squeezed with lime and garnish with chopped chives.
Note: While this recipe calls for 8 ears of corn, more can easily be made – provided there is room on the grill. There’s no need to increase the butter recipe – this recipe will make plenty of spicy butter.
Hum – we’ve got Habaneros and chives growing in our yard now. Next summer we plan to expand to growing our own corn . . . Maybe we should think about a lime tree . . . But then two years at best is a long time to wait . . .