There’s an old saying about corn — “Knee-high by the Fourth of July” — whose wisdom is if your crop stands knee-high around the holiday, you’ll have a good yield that year. That was probably true about two generations ago, when farmers used the catchy phrase to gauge their crop, but nowadays corn can be waist-high or even head-high by the Fourth of July, thanks to earlier planting and advances in farming.
In my case, where I’m growing corn in climate zone 10b, I sowed my first seed in early April, had tassels the middle of June, and harvested my entire crop after all the fireworks settled down in July.
In fact, on the Fourth of July my Golden Bantam 12-Row sweet corn stood 10 feet tall!
Golden Bantam 12-Row is a sweet corn variety developed from the original Golden Bantam, an old-time favorite introduced by Burpee in 1902. Its bright yellow kernels changed the way people thought about sweet corn, as at the time, the preference was toward white corn (signifying quality and refinement) while yellow corn was fit for animal feed.
But people took a liking to the Golden Bantam as it tolerated cooler conditions better than other corn of the time, making for an earlier planting and earlier harvest.
The 12-row variety improved on the original in 1922 with taller stalks, larger ears, and higher yields.
In late spring, the first flowers started to bloom on my corn, turning from a pale green to a rich violet. These tiny explosions of flowers are called tassels. Tassels are the male flowers on the plant, and they pollinate the silks (female flowers) on the ears.
For every silk that’s pollinated, it turns into a juicy kernel. Good pollination results in large ears that are filled in well with plump kernels. My Golden Bantam 12-Row plants each bore 2 or 3 ears of corn, all of them at least 8 to 10 inches long with perfect rows of large yellow kernels.
The corn was sweet, but not overly sweet. (I don’t think an heirloom corn could ever be as sweet as the hybrids you buy from the store, since those are specially bred to contain more sugar.) But this variety has a good balance of flavor and texture, and there’s nothing quite like freshly picked corn that goes from garden to grill in just a few minutes.
I picked a few ears too late, resulting in kernels that were slightly chewy, but they made for some excellent corn chowder. The rest of the ears were steamed on the grill (in their husks) and then buttered with one of my favorite compound butters, a zesty cilantro-lime that leaves festive little flecks of green on the cob!
Makes 1/2 cup
1/2 cup butter, softened at room temperature
2 tablespoons minced cilantro leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
Juice and zest from 1/2 lime
Pinch of salt
In a small bowl, cut up the butter into small chunks. Add the cilantro, cayenne pepper, juice and zest, then fold it all in and mash with a spatula or fork until well combined.
Slather the cilantro-lime butter over a cob of piping hot corn and rejoice! (You might even find yourself slathering it over other things too… try it with fish, shrimp, zucchini, and whatever else you’re grillin’ up that day.)