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Published: Tuesday, 8/17/2004

A craving for corn

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

For inspiration, take advantage of area corn festivals such as CornFest '04 this weekend at the Erie Street Market.

Not all corn grown locally is for eating. Some will be used for livestock feed, corn oil, popcorn, or corn meal. According to author Olwen Woodier in Corn (Storey, $12.95), four major types of corn are grown in the United States.

●Dent or field corn has large ears, and the kernels have a soft starchy center; it is grown for animal feed, ethylene alcohol, breakfast flakes, corn syrup, and cornstarch.

●Sweet corn is eaten fresh, frozen, or canned. Carbohydrate is stored as sugar, which changes to starch as the corn ages. Sweet corn is picked while the plant is immature; picking and removing the husk speed the conversion of sugar to starch. Traditionally, sweet corn needed to be cooked immediately after picking for maximum sweetness and tenderness.Today, many sweet and supersweet varieties remain so for several days.

●Flint, or Indian corn, has a hard, smooth flintlike kernel. It is usually sold as decoration at roadside stands and comes in blue, red, black, purple, and orange. Indian corn is edible when ground and makes a sweet high-protein cornmeal for breads, muffins, and pancakes.

●Popcorn has short ears and hard kernels. When heated, the kernel explodes and a soft starch center bursts.

Other types of corn:

●Flour corn, grown primarily in the Andean region of South America, is easy to grind.

●Baby corn is immature corn hard-harvested one to five days after silks appear. The tender, delicately flavored ears are entirely edible.

●Shoepeg corn is an old-fashioned sweet variety not often found today. The kernels are small and thin and have tough skins, according to Ms. Woodier, who likens them to pine nuts in appearance and sweetness.

Most locally grown sweet corn is Sugar Enhanced or Super Sweet, according to Norm Keil of Louis Keil and Sons of Sylvania, which has a booth at the Toledo Farmers' Market. As for tenderness, these varieties last longer on the shelf and give more flavor than the old-fashioned varieties.

"Old-fashioned corn lasted two to three days and then began to lose its flavor," Mr. Keil says. "The longer it's stored, the tougher it gets." With the cool weather and rain, corn was not as plentiful last week as in most years.

But expect to find sweet corn, popcorn, and foods made with corn and cornmeal at CornFest '04 presented by the Erie Street Market and Toledo Farmers' Market. Hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Corn-related events include corn-shucking contests, a kernel-guessing contest, and corn-tossing contests for kids. Fresh roasted corn and iced tea will be available.

On Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m., Erie Street Market vendors and locally owned downtown restaurants will have sample dishes featuring corn supplied by Toledo Farmers' Market vendors. Dishes vying for the People's Choice Award are sure to inspire home cooks. Many of the dishes will be sold by the vendors and restaurants during the week after the event.

Pam Weirauch of Pam's Corner in Erie Street Market will prepare Shrimp and Corn Fritter, which is a recipe that she and Steve Moss developed, and Quesadillas with Fajita Chicken & Corn Salsa. The corn salsa is made from ears of corn that have been husked, cooked, and had the kernels removed. The recipe is a great way to use leftover ears of cooked corn. (See recipes on Page 2.)

I am fascinated with Lou Messina's Polenta French Fries at Messina's Italian Deli in the Erie Street Market. "We make polenta from scratch [using cornmeal], infuse herbs and roasted garlic, use chicken broth in the polenta, and cook it until it's solid, rather than porridge," Mr. Messina says. "Then we cut it in french fry strips and fry it." He serves it with Lou's Dipping Sauce, which he describes as a special ketchup with "garlic, garlic, and garlic." He will also make Italian corn bread, which is corn bread made with corn flour - no sugar - cut in strips, battered with a bread crumb-parmesan cheese mixture, and fried.

From Jackson's Lounge & Grill, Corn Macquchoux is a New Orleans Creole dish made with crawfish, corn, and bell peppers "similar to an etouffee," says Jennifer Pelwecki, manager. It will be served at CornFest '04 with golden fried walleye bites with hot sauce on the side. The restaurant has used Corn Macquchoux as a topping on walleye entrees, and it will be served through the fall as a "finishing sauce" that is thicker than a Hollandaise. (Etouffee has a rich, deep color and flavor that comes from the dark brown roux.)

You'll find a variety of corn soups at CornFest '04, including Mexican Corn and Chicken Soup from Andre's, Roasted Corn Chowder from Diva's, Chicken and Sweet Corn Stew from Downtown Latte, Ham and Corn Chowder from T.J.'s Cafe, and Corn Chowder from Erie Coffee Mill, which will also serve corn dogs and corn medley.

Watch for Cheesy Corn and Kielbasa Casserole from Busia's Narozny, Midwest Crab Cake from Manhattan's, Corn Bread from Murphy's Place, Corn and Hummus Dip from Oasis in the Market, Crab and Corn Beignets from Oliver House, and Corn and Cheddar-filled Poblano Peppers and Corn Salsa from Pepe's. There will be popcorn and popcorn balls from Roadhouse on Erie and flavored corn cob chips from Taste of Texas. Also participating are Easy Street, Emporium on Huron, OK Wok, Robet's Bakery, Seagate Snacks, Tastefully Simple, and Wesley's Cafe.

The lineup of foods shows corn's versatility in salads, casseroles, soups, stews, salsas, and appetizers. Two classics are corn bread and corn relish.

From fresh corn kernels, frozen and canned corn, and even creamed corn there are numerous ways to make corn bread. Real Cornbread is made with cornmeal, baking mix (such as Bisquick), and corn.

If you want to open a jar of summer in the middle of winter, make Fresh Corn Relish in pint jars using a boiling-water-bath canner.

Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor.

Contact her at: food@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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