Monday, May 23, 2011

Pig Food

So summers in Maryland you could count on; crabs, tomatoes and corn. Two things were a given with the corn, it would be Silver Queen, from Maryland or New Jersey, and it would be served with, in addition to butter, salt and pepper, Old Bay.

This corn usually came from a truck on the side of the road. There would be several ratty homemade signs leading up to the improvised roadside produce stand advertising ‘Silver Queen’ and its provenance. My dad would get excited and announce that we were about to pull over (so get ready) and whatever vegetable had been planned for dinner was now scrapped for the corn. In spite of the signs stating what it was and where it came from my dad would still interrogate the people selling it. Sometimes followed by a threat, ‘Well if it’s not Silver Queen, I’ll be back tomorrow to let you know.’

My Dad won’t eat any other corn. When I was a kid and would (gasp) ask about other corns he would proclaim ‘PIG FOOD!’ Followed by a whisper, as if letting you in on a dirty secret, ‘That yellow corn is what they feed pigs.’ Yellow corn = bacon. Getting louder, ‘You don’t want to eat it! Good God! PIG FOOD I tell you! Shit!’ So the impression was made on me that eating yellow corn was the same kind of no-no as picking your nose.

There are two methods for cooking this corn. Number one: remove the silk, not the husk, wrap husk back around the cob, soak it for several hours and cook it on the grill. Number two: boil it. As much as my dad did not want to eat pig food he also didn’t want to eat over cooked Silver Queen corn. Typical corn boiling scenario: My Dad: ‘I’m afraid you’re going to overcook the corn.’ My step-mom: ‘Well, do you want to cook the corn?’ ‘No, but I don’t want over cooked corn. Please Anita!’ Pause. ‘Jesus Christ.’ Some hand wringing. ‘Jim, you take over the corn.’ ‘No, no, that’s OK. YOU do the corn.’ Then he’d start to break a sweat at the thought of over cooked corn. ‘Just don’t over cook it.’ More pacing. “Goddamn it Anita, you’re overcooking the corn!’ At this point someone would remove the corn from the stove before the corn had a chance to consider being overcooked and before my Dad’s behavior teetered over to obsessive-insane.

I moved to Texas after college. I had just finished my first grocery shopping trip and I stepped outside to see a hand painted yellow and green truck selling nothing but corn on the cob with something on it that looked like Old Bay . I was immediately excited, ditched my cart and ran over to the truck. It wasn’t Silver Queen and that wasn’t Old Bay . It was pig food, with mayo, cheese and cayenne, an elote. Which I found to be a delicacy once I got over my Dad’s imposed food prejudices.

The irony here is recently Jim (my spouse) and I went out to dinner with Jim (my Dad) and my step-mom at their favorite Baltimore restaurant. Oddly, I guess in a fit of fashionableness, those elotes were on the menu in Maryland. ‘What are they?’ my Dad asked. Jim explained the traditional Mexican street food to him and my Dad in rare form acquiesced to trying something new. He asked the waiter ‘Is it Silver Queen?’ ‘No, but it is heirloom, organic and from the Chef’s garden.’ Skeptically, ‘Ok we’ll try, ONE.’ Well it came, it was placed in front of Jim (my spouse) and it had been, obviously, over cooked and the kernels were all different colors and too big and uneven like teeth needing braces. My Dad looked at it leaned in and whispered in Jim’s ear ‘It's pig food isn’t it? I thought so.’

If you are not familiar with Silver Queen corn it is a very sweet white corn and you will have to taste it to believe me. Those who have no had it cannot believe a corn could have such an inspiring taste and those who have had it understand that it is a very special treat.

The fact is I’m still brain washed and usually buy white corn but I have been adding something more than Old Bay to it. Jim (my spouse) is thrilled about this combination; I’m not sure I could talk my dad into it. And I have perfected the cooking time so you and your family do not need to have an intervention about the cooking of corn.

Enjoy your summer.

White Corn with Basil Lime Butter

4 ears of white corn

4 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

1.5 teaspoons lime zest

1.5 teaspoons chopped basil

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Combine the butter, basil and lime zest. Boil the corn for 7 minutes, no more, no less. Remove and serve immediately with the butter.


  1. Huzzah for Corn Season!! Next time we all head up to Highlands it's Silver Queen-a-palooza! Whoot!

  2. Ooh yum! I love corn-on-the-cob. We grow a lot of "pig food" here in Kansas. :-)