MNx12: August is a wonderful month when local sweet corn spills from truck beds, market stands and neighborhood kiosks, right into our psyches.
Illustration: Eddie Thomas Star Tribune
August is a month of vigilance. To be specific, vigilance over vegetables.
Do not think for one minute that you can spirit your extra zucchini onto my porch. Plus, all my car windows are closed. I am so on to you.
However, if you have sweet corn — well, that’s another matter, especially now that the local crop is ripening.
No more getting by with those early varieties imported from Missouri or Iowa. While they may be excellent vehicles for butter, we know that the sun has risen and set once or twice on those truckloads.
But an ear of sweet corn four hours off the stalk from some farm near Waconia? Like angels dancing on your tongue.
Come August, you can tell a lot about Minnesotans, simply by how they approach their sweet corn.
Take buttering strategies, which basically fall into two camps: those who roll the ear on a stick of butter, and those who spread the butter with a knife.
The derision each camp feels for the other is hearty and sincere.
Rollers can’t help but laugh out loud as the spreaders’ butter pat invariably melts and slides off the ear, which leads to the Sisyphean task of nudging the slick dollop back onto the knife before giving up and slicing more butter, although now with a knife so warmed by the hot corn that the butter slides off again, even as the spreader tries to maintain some decorum because, after all, this is how it’s done.
Spreaders, on the other hand, regard rollers as ravening savages, spinning ears of corn on a stick of butter that rapidly disintegrates into a raggedy sludge criss-crossed with stray strands of corn silk.
Etiquette experts counsel putting a pat of butter on your plate, then with a knife, butter only a few rows of corn at a time — eating, buttering, eating, buttering.
At them, both camps roll their eyes. Manners have no place when it comes to eating sweet corn.
A State Fair staple
In August, a well-laid dinner table includes a platter of steaming sweet corn that, within minutes, becomes a platter piled with barren cobs.
Most folks employ the harmonica method of eating corn, chewing their way across an ear, invariably from left to right. But even here, techniques reveal the eater.
There are the chompers, who extract three and four rows at a time, often hoovering an entire cob without pausing. These diners often have a zest for life tinged with the soul of a competitive eater. They either married a Minnesotan they met in college, or arrived via job transfer and just love it here.
Then there are those who bite off two (not one, not three) lines of kernels at a time, using their napkins at regular intervals. They are savorers, with an appreciation for orderliness and for never needlessly offending, all the while feeling vaguely offended by those who chomp. They are, for the most part, born here.
These two camps usually maintain a polite, eyes-averted tolerance until August, when everyone gets thrown into the great deep-fryer called the Minnesota State Fair.