As I got older, my time at our family gatherings slowly shifted from playing hide and seek in corn fields and playing backyard baseball or kickball, to sitting with the adults and quietly taking in their conversations. The topics varied widely, but always included how much rain we had (or hadn’t) gotten, who was doing what at church, and some type of hometown or national politics. They pretty much broke all the social rules of conversation and usually things went well. But, when they didn’t, my sister and I would start talking loudly and dramatically about the current (and highly fictional) price hike in cans of creamed corn. This cue became a family joke, and usually got the job done. But inevitably someone (usually Grandma) would fall for it and we would have to explain. Not only did “creamed corn” come up at every family gathering, this dish made an appearance, too. I have adapted it from my Aunt’s recipe to make it gluten free, and it is still as tasty as ever.
I stomped up the three concrete steps and swung the screen door open to the covered stoop, stopping just shy of the threshold to kick the snow off my little boots. My sister pushes me from behind, in a hurry to escape the cold. We bust through the back door and stumble into the kitchen. The warmth of my grandparent’s house overwhelms by face and the smell of pork and sour kraut on this New Year’s Day makes my nose tingle with delight.
I shed my winter clothes and pass through the kitchen and stop at the bottom of the stairs. Aunts, uncles and a few cousins lay in various states of nap across the couches and in recliners as a football game plays out on the television. Some ‘Happy New Year’ mumbles are audible as I rush up the stairs to see my favorite cousins and their new Christmas toys.
Now that I am grown, New Year’s Day traditions have developed, and yet some have stayed the same. There are still football games. Naps on the couch. Christmas toys getting a good breaking in.
The pork no longer simmers on the stove – there is a restaurant that does a better job than I ever could. And there is soup. Not just any soup. Corn chowder with Christmas ham trimmings and bursts of corn from this fall’s harvest. Simultaneously fresh and hardy, it is a terrific way to ring in the new year.
Ham and Corn Chowder
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 onion (large) finely chopped
1 red bell pepper finely chopped
1 green bell pepper finely chopped
2 tablespoons flour (Gluten free option: 1 T. corn starch, 1 T. gluten free flour blend)
2 lbs potatoes pealed a diced (I use three pounds)
4 cups chicken stock (32 oz box)
4 cups water (I use six cups)
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste (about ½ t each)
11 ounce can yellow corn, drained.
¼ lb diced ham (1 ½ c.)
½ c heavy cream (1/2 &1/2)
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1-2 cups instant mashed potatoes
Paprika for garish
• In a heavy dutch oven melt the butter with the oil over medium heat.
• Add onion and both peppers. Cook about 5 minutes until onions are translucent.
• Add flour, stir occasionally and cook 2 minutes.
• Add potatoes. Turn heat up to high and add stock. Bring to a boil.
• Add bay leaf, salt and pepper. Turn down to a simmer, cover and leave it there for 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
• Add corn and simmer for 5-10 minutes.
• Remove two cups of the soup and blend in food processor, then add it back into the pot.(or, use an immersion blender for 30 seconds in dutch oven.)
• Add ham and a touch of liquid smoke. Heat through about 5 minutes.
• Remove the bay leaf and stir in cream. Adjust thickness with instant mashed potatoes and seasonings to taste. Serve hot, sprinkled with paprika.
In the dead of winter I sometimes stare out my back window at the crusty, white land. The trees are bare and seem to shudder in the cold as the wind cuts across the pond and ice crystals dance on the frozen surface.
It’s hard to believe that just a few months prior we were grilling out, picking tomatoes fresh from the vine and nibbling away at ears of sweet corn dripping with salted butter. I often wonder how this frigid landscape can possibly be transformed back to the lush green habitat of the grey heron and family of mallard ducks. As I sit there, with my warm cup of coffee and thick sweater, and I am thankful that back in August we stood over boiling pots of water and shucked one-hundred-fifty-six ears of corn. I slide on my slippers, hold my breath for the blast of cold and open the garage door. I shuffle out to the freezer and back again as fast as my feet can carry me and I carry a bag of gold. Ohio sweet corn. In the dead of winter.
I pull a sauce pan from the cupboard, break up the frozen treasure, and add butter and salt. When it is finally steaming hot, I take a bite and I am transformed. Sometimes all the way back to my childhood with visions of my Dad hard at work in the garden. The chill of winter is temporarily forgotten.
Processing Sweet Corn
Bring deep pots of water to a rolling boil.
(If you have an electric kettle, it comes in handy. Fill it, set it to a boil, and use this water to top off the pots as needed.)
Shuck the ears of corn and remove as much silk as possible.
Place as many ears of corn in the pot(s) as you can without crowding. Making sure the entire ear(s) are submerged.
Boil for 3-4 minutes. Remove immediately to a rimmed baking sheet.
Let cool for about 10 minutes.
Using a cutting board and knife (or your favorite cutting tool over a bowl) remove all the corn from the cob. Here is the most important part: Get all that juice from the cob. To do this, stand the cob on end in a large bowl. Starting from the top, hold a knife at about a 45 degree angle and scrap all the way down. Rotate the cob and repeat until the entire ear is finished.
Portioning and Storing
Our family will eat 1 1/2 cups corn, as a side dish, at an average meal. I prefer using 1 quart Ziploc freezer bags.
Measure amount of corn into bag – and don’t forget to add some of the juice from the bottom of the bowl in each one.
Close the bag 3/4 of the way. Lay it down on a flat surface and press the corn out, filling the bottom corners of the bag and working as much air out of the top as possible. Seal the bag completely. Label month and year with a Sharpie.
I like to press the bags as flat as possible and stack in a box.
Place in freezer.
NOTE: 13 Dozen ears of corn yielded 93 bags of corn (1 1/2 cup each).