Harvest Festival 2013

Normally Harvest Festival is a well-organized event for us. I plan the time carefully and include a week out of the office to ensure I have time to harvest the last of the garden and all the fruit without problem. However, all the planning in the world won’t account for the vagaries of nature every time. Even though the Harvest Festivals in 2011 and 2012 went off precisely as planned, the Harvest Festival this year ended up being one emergency after another. It started when our fruit ripened three weeks sooner than expected—make that half the fruit. The other half of the fruit is ripening this week on schedule. The odd ripening schedule points out another potential issue with global warming, but more importantly, it demonstrates the requirement for flexibility when you’re self-sufficient. Yes, it’s possible to plan for a particular outcome, but what you get could be an entirely different story.

This year’s Harvest Festival was stretched out over three weeks while I continued to write and do all of the other things I normally do. (Fortunately, Rebecca was able to put many of the tasks she needs to perform on hold.) Of course, the dual work requirements made for some really long hours. Creating an enjoyable work environment is one of things that Rebecca and I work really hard to obtain. It’s part of our effort to make our close relationship work. So, this Harvest Festival included all of the usual music and other special environmental features we normally have. Lacking this year was much in the way of game playing, but it was a sacrifice we needed to make.

One of the bigger tasks we took on this year was processing four bushels of corn that someone gave us (all in a single day). Actually, the corn came from a few different sources, but the majority came from a single contributor. Of course, we started by husking the corn and getting all of the silk off.

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The next step is to cut all of the corn off the cob. This step can be a little tricky. You need a moderately sharp knife around 8″ long. If the knife is too sharp, you’ll take off some of the cob with the kernels. A knife that is too dull will damage the corn and make a huge mess. The knife needs to be long enough so that you can remove the kernels safely—a pairing knife would be an unsafe option.

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We use a raw pack approach when working with the corn. You want to be sure to pack the corn firmly, but not crush it. Rebecca always takes care of this part of the process because she has just the right touch.

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Each pint or quart is topped off with boiling water at this point. We don’t add anything else to our corn. The corn needs to be processed in a pressure canner because it’s a low acid food (the processing time varies, so be sure to check your canning book for details, we rely on the Ball Blue Book and have never had a bad result).

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We had four fresh meals from the four bushels of corn. There is nothing quite so nice as corn roasted on the barbecue. We also gave the chickens an ear (plus all of the cobs). They seem to have quite a good time pecking out all the kernels.

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Even with these few subtractions, we ended up with 42 pints (each pint will last two meals using the recommended serving size of ½ cup) and fourteen quarts (used for soup and for company) out of the four bushels of corn. As a result, we have enough corn in the larder now for about 1½ years (a total of 140 servings).

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Our Harvest Festival this year included processing pears, grapes, apples, a wide variety of vegetables, and even some of the meat chickens (125 ¾ pounds worth on a single day). The point is that we did get the work completed and we did it while still having as much fun as is possible. We’re both admittedly tired and still resting up. Still to come is the garden cleanup and the wood cutting, and then we’ll have an entire winter to rest up for next spring. Let me know about your latest self-sufficiency emergency at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Picking a Delicious Ear of Corn

Nothing is quite so good as a delicious ear of corn picked fresh from the garden. A freshly picked ear of corn is sweeter and more delicious than any ear of corn you’ll ever taste. The fresher the ear, the more delicious the taste. Of course, that delicious ear of corn starts with the correct planting technique and choice of corn variety. We happen to prefer the Bodacious variety because it produces evenly colored corn with a great taste. The ears are normally full (indicating good pollination), the stalks don’t seem to break quite as often, it’s a little less susceptible to pests, and we find that the ears are often larger. We’ve also tried a number of other varieties such as Kandy Corn (somewhat sweeter) and Serendipity Bi-color Corn (interesting color combinations and ripens somewhat earlier). So far, we like Bodacious the best, but you need to choose a corn variety that works well in your area. Take factors such the type of soil, variety of pests, and weather into account when making your choice.

Planting the seeds correctly is also important. We have quite a bit of high wind in this area, so we plant the seeds one foot apart in rows and each of the rows two feet apart. If you plant the corn seeds too closely together, the corn won’t ever produce a strong stalk. In fact, a worst case scenario is that the corn won’t produce any ears. Planting the corn too far apart makes the stalks more susceptible to wind damage and reduces pollination. You may get full sized ears, but you won’t get ears that are full of kernels. You may have to plant your corn differently depending on your area to get optimal results.

The tough part is figuring how when to pick the corn. Yes, you see the ears pop out sometime after the corn tassels (corn cross pollinates through wind action—it doesn’t depend on a pollinator to pollinate it). The tassels are the male flowering member of the plant, while the kernels (ovules) are the female flower member of the plant. These female members reside in a husk and sent out silks to receive the pollen. Pollen travels down the silks to the ovules and pollinates them. Each ovule requires individual pollination, which is why you can see ears with only a few kernels or you can see one or two ovules that didn’t pollinate in a given ear. The point is that the pollination occurs, the kernel grows, and then there is a magical period when the kernels are full of delicious sugar-filled liquid that is absolutely delightful to ingest. After that, the sugars begin to turn to a less tasty starch.

The silks are part of the key to discovering when to pick the corn. When the silks whither and turn black, you know they have done their job—the kernels are pollinated (or at least as pollinated as they’ll get). However, the kernels aren’t instantly fully sized. The dying silks tell you that pollination is over and that you’ll soon have tasty corn to eat.

The next clue is to feel the ears. Gently place your hand around an ear and you can feel the kernels growing. It takes a while, but you’ll eventually developer a touch that tells you that the kernels are getting larger. At some point, you’ll stop feeling any growth. In addition, the ears will feel solid, without any gaps between kernels.

At this point, you can peak at the ears. Gently pull the husk back to reveal the tip of the ear. The kernels at the tip develop last, so the kernels at the bottom are always riper and fuller than the kernels at the tip. When the last few rows start the look the right color and fullness, try sticking a thumbnail into one of the kernels. If you see a liquid come out, the corn is ready to pick.  If there is no liquid, carefully smooth the husk back over the ear. It should ripen normally within a day or two.

Of course, sometimes the kernels at the tip of the ear aren’t pollinated or may not grow right for other reasons. Sometimes a corn borer ruins your day. Earwigs are also a problem at times (and beneficial at others). Never allow the corn to stay on the stalk for more than a week after you feel full ears. If you have doubts, pull one ear, fully husk it, and evaluate the results. Cutting the kernels from the ear and trying a few raw will tell you quite a bit about the status of the corn.

Sweetcorn—it’s the stuff of summer. What are your experiences with corn? Do you grow it yourself or get it from a roadside stand? Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.