February 2013 Issue
My Ohio: Kitchen-table Gardening
Seed catalogs inspire dreams of fresh-from-the-backyard bounty.
I grew up believing there was only one way to cook corn on the cob —
roasted in the coals of a fire in the gravel driveway of my grandpa’s
Knox County farm.
It was a bit of a shock the first time I saw corn
boiled on a stove. Sorry to break the news, but you know that liquid
gold left in the pot after boiling? That’s the flavor, friends. No,
roasting is the way to go.
After gathering sticks and lighting the
fire, we kids marched to the field’s edge with Grandpa, who loaded our
outstretched arms with corn. Not sweet corn, mind you. Just field corn.
Grandpa could always find the tender ears. By the time we got back to
the fire, the flames had burned down and we laid the corn in the hot
coals, husk and all.
After a few minutes of roasting, when the silks
had burned off and the green ears were tinged golden brown, we removed
them from the coals and gingerly pulled back the steaming husks to
reveal the plump kernels. The husks cooled rapidly and made a convenient
handle for little hands.
At this point, all that’s standing between
you and heaven is a little butter — OK, a lot of butter — applied by
peeling the wrapper from one end of the stick and gliding it generously
over the corn.
We ate piece after piece until we were full, standing
around the dying fire on a sultry July evening, as the first lightning
bugs emerged in the dusky corners of the farmyard.
I don’t think I’ve
ever tasted corn so good — minutes out of the field, seasoned with a
hint of wood smoke and dripping with butter — but each year I plant
sweet corn in my garden in hopes of conjuring up one of those perfect
summer nights from childhood.
February may seem an odd month to be
thinking about roasting corn, but it’s exactly the right time of year
because it’s when you can do something about it besides daydream: You
can order seeds.
This is the season for garden catalogs — their glossy pages filled with
flawless fashion models of the vegetable world. Rich, red tomatoes
glistening with dew, luscious peas, slender green beans, shapely
cabbages, succulent spinach and the king of the backyard garden: sweet
corn. I grab a cup of hot coffee and pore over the catalogs with a
notepad and pencil, like an investor studying stock futures.
gardeners can buy the seeds to grow the corn, of course, someone has to
grow the corn that provides the seeds. Schlessman Seed Co. near Milan
has been producing farm and garden seeds on the shores of Lake Erie
It’s one of the best spots on earth for growing things,
says company president Daryl Deering. The lake creates its own
microclimate, moderating the effect of drought years like 2012 and
extending the growing season by providing frost protection in the fall.
“We produce hybrid seed right down to the beach,” Deering says.
was founded in the sweet corn industry, but is also a leading producer
of wheat, soybean, field corn and popcorn seed. In addition to supplying
farmers in the United States, the company ships to South Africa, South
America and Europe. Home gardeners will find Schlessman seeds inside
packets with names they know well — Ferry-Morse, Burpee, Henry Field’s
and Gurney’s — all grown in our own back yard, so to speak, here in
There are three dozen kinds of sweet corn in the Schlessman
repertoire, among them great names like Honey ’n’ Snow, Trucker’s
Favorite and Country Gentleman. And, be still my heart, several
varieties specifically for roasting. I think I may have found what I’m
Anyway, it’s something to dream about in February, as I
sketch garden layouts and make out my seed order. Even if I can’t quite
recreate the roasted corn I remember, a little butter will make
OK … a lot of butter.
John Gladden is an
Ohio Magazine contributing editor based in Seville. His column
collection, How to Elevate a Cow, is available from woosterbook.com.