From the Cob to Café: Freezing Super Sweet, Farm to Fork Corn
Although farmers planted corn in record numbers this year — the most acres since 1937 — the current drought affecting the Midwest means yields are predicted to be well below last year’s. Consumers are seeing a rise in not only prices for corn, but in many other foods, including meat and poultry — the vast majority of farm animals rely on corn for food. (Very little of the corn planted in the Midwest is edible: most of it goes to feed animals or for fuel.)
But there are farmers who grow against the grain, so to speak, and in a sustainable fashion produce corn sweet enough for humans to eat. So last year, when Bon Appétit District Manager Sam Currie discovered Hutterian Brethren Farms had a surplus of the sweetest corn he’d ever had, he jumped at the opportunity to find a way for our accounts to use it.
One of Bon Appétit’s Farm to Fork producers, Hutterian Brethren Farms is a self-sustaining religious community and a member of the Shepherd’s Grain wheat producer co-op, which has been the primary source of Bon Appétit’s flour in the Pacific Northwest for almost 10 years. (Read more about Shepherd’s Grain.) They are part of the larger group of Hutterites, who live in communities where they farm, raise livestock, and manufacture a variety of goods from furniture to metal siding. Other than some personal possessions, everything else — houses, barns, vehicles, labor and proceeds — is shared by members of the community. For the Hutterian Brethren in the Northwest, a large part of their cash sales each summer come from selling their super-sweet corn to local markets and stores. But when weather patterns changed last year, with a cool spring and a late summer, they were left with mature corn long after the usual season. Trying to avoid selling this delectable corn into the feed or commodity markets, Charles and Ed Gross (two of the Hutterian brothers) called Sam and asked if we wanted some really good corn.
You bet, said Sam — if they could get it off the cob, and freeze it for us. The farmers worked with a regional processor that they had used before. Freezing allows the farmers to extend the growing season, thus increasing their revenue. Bon Appétit bought 18,000 pounds of corn at a fair price. This year, we have committed to 22,000 pounds and up to 30,000 next year as we make it easier to distribute to the Northwest accounts. Thankfully, the drought has not yet had an impact on Brethren Farms, which is located in much-rainier Reardan, WA, and in fact they believe the heat will improve the flavor and quality of the corn — and make it available earlier than expected!
Chefs and customers love this sweet corn. Executive Chef Michael Gillespie from George Fox University says “the corn is sweeter, has larger kernels and has a fresh from the stock taste.” He shared a recipe for sweet blue corn cakes with carne adovada. And Ingrid Rohrer-Downer, the executive chef at Bon Appétit’s Ronler Acres 3 Café, uses the corn for salsa, side dishes, soups, salad bar, and specials.One of her favorite salsa recipes follows.
Sweet Blue Corn Pancakes with Carne Adovada
For the pancakes
- 2 cups of flour
- 1/2 cup blue corn flour
- 1/4 cup agave nectar (or substitute the same amount of honey or maple syrup)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 3/4 tsp baking powder
- 3/4 cup sweet corn
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup roasted and chopped Pasilla chili
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
- 2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Mix the two flours, baking soda, and the baking powder together. Stir well to combine.
- Crack the eggs into another bowl; add the buttermilk, agave, pasilla, and the corn. Mix well.
- Combine the wet ingredients and the dry ingredients together (do not over-mix). There will be a few lumps.
- Let the batter sit in the refrigerator for at least ½ hour for the flavors to combine.
- Heat a non-stick sauté pan over low to medium heat. Add a tablespoon of butter and pour some corn batter into the skillet.
- Cook for one to one and a half minutes. Carefully flip over your corn cakes and continue to cook for another one to two minutes, depending on how well-done you like your pancakes.
- Pull cooked cakes to a plate and keep them warm while you finish the others.
For the Carne Adovada
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 pounds pork shoulder or shoulder rib ends, diced in one inch chunks
- 2 medium yellow onions, chopped
- 2 heads of garlic, peeled
- Sea salt to taste
- 2 tablespoons masa harina (a special type of corn flour used in traditional Mexican cooking for tamales, tortillas, and other dishes. It can usually be found in the baking aisle of the grocery store)
- 6 to 8 ounces of ground dried New Mexican red chili powder
- 5-7 cups of water
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Heat oil a large pot over medium heat until very hot. When the pot is sizzling, add the pork pieces to brown. Do not crowd the pot or the pork won’t brown. You may have to do this in batches. Transfer the pork to a plate when done.
- Add the onions, garlic, and sea salt to the same pot and stir constantly until they are very soft, two to three minutes.
- Sprinkle the onion mixture with masa harina and pepper, and continue to cook until the raw masa flavor is gone, three to four minutes.
- Add the chili powder and stir until well combined.
- Add three to four cups of water and bring to a boil. Using a blender or hand held emulsifier, puree the onion and chili mixture until smooth.
- Return the mixture to the same pot, add one to two cups of water and the pork.
- Bring to a boil, cover with aluminum foil, and bake in preheated oven until the pork falls apart, about
- 45 minutes to one hour. If the pork gets dry add more water. The final sauce should be thick. When done, taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
- To plate: Top one or two corn cakes with butter and a drizzle of honey. Add four to five ounces of the pork mixture. Garnish with cilantro and raw radishes.
Ingrid’s Corn Salsa
- 2 cups Brethren Farm sweet corn, defrosted
- 1/2 cup red onion, diced small
- 3/4 cup tomato, diced small
- 1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
- 1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
- 1 tablespoon jalapeno, chopped
- Juice of 3 limes
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- Mix all ingredients together. Enjoy!