When I was very young, I spent the summers at our Katepwa Lake cottage in the Qu’Appelle Valley.
In August, the market garden just across the road had freshly picked corn available whenever we wanted. When Mom planned a meal with corn on the cob, we would cross the road and let the owners know how much we wanted. The farmer wouldn’t let us pick our own corn, but was happy to do the picking and hand us a bag of what we wanted to take back home to our cottage. That was always done just before supper, so my big job was to quickly husk the corn to get it ready for the pot. The freshly picked corn was into a large pot of boiling water within an hour of picking. The result, 10 minutes later, was sweet, juicy golden corn on the cob. That corn was one of my favourite meals.
After we moved to Calgary, we had corn-on-the-cob feeds every week in August. That corn came from Taber and was brought to Calgary and sold in a few stores as well as out of the backs of trucks. It was OK, but never had the taste and texture of that freshly picked corn we had at our cottage.
I just thought that Taber corn wasn’t as good as the corn grown in the Qu’Appelle valley, but I liked it anyway with lots of butter and a bit of salt. I was to learn later in life that the Taber corn was every bit as good as the Qu’Appelle Valley corn, but it had to be eaten at the right moment after picking—as soon as possible.
That epiphany hit me first when our family at the time joined up with our friends and family to take a trip to Taber so we could pick our corn right from the field and have a big corn feed—reminiscent of what we used to do at our cottage.
We found a field with a ‘you pick’ sign and wandered in. The owner told us where to pick, gave us a couple of bags for a few dollars and off we went. We picked what we needed plus a bit to take home and off we went to a picnic ground near Taber for our picnic. The corn was into a kettle of boiling water within an hour of being picked. Ten minutes later, covered in butter and a bit of salt, we devoured as much as we could handle. Delicious. My mind quickly went back to those corn feeds at Katepwa in Saskatchewan as the flavour was the same.
We had a good time for the rest of the afternoon with the kids and friends, then started home to Calgary around 5 o’clock. We reached Hi-way #2 close to 6 and decided to cook up a supper at a campground along the Old Man River. Corn again? Why not. We boiled up a couple of cobs for each adult and one for each child. Again, butter and salt applied and we bit into our cobs. They were still sweet and juicy, but my goodness, did they ever taste different. No where near as nice as the batch we had cooked just after picking. We all thought the same. This was prior to the internet, so, when I got home, I phoned the farm where we bought the corn to get their thoughts. It turned out what we experienced was normal. The farmer said it only takes about 2 hours for the corn to start changing to starch and it looses its initial flavour. Lesson learned!
I had to tell that little story so I can get to the real subject of this essay.
I’ve had many conversations about corn-on-the-cob, short though they may have been, with folks from other provinces, BC and Ontario for example. The words are always about the same.
“I don’t know what the big deal is about Taber corn. Our corn at home is way better.” Given my past learnings I ask the question,
“Where did you buy your Taber corn?” The answer is always the same.
“Oh, I bought it off the back of that Taber Corn truck in the parking lot.”
Ah, ha. Now I could ask the next question.
“When you used to have your corn back home, where did you buy it?”
“We always bought it from the farmer down the road.”
The answer was clear, to me anyway. The back of the truck Taber corn was at least 3 hours old from picking and probably more like 8 hours old. The sugar-starch conversion was well underway.
I don’t think there are any corn fields near Taber that allow people to pick their own any more. You can buy corn from roadside stands and that is probably as good as you’re going to get. Since those days when we used to travel to Taber for fresh corn, there have been some new varieties that have been introduced. These have been altered to make them extra sweet, hoping to have them taste more like fresh cut corn. That helps, but I still would like to be able to buy freshly picked corn and have that big feed…within the hour. However, given the cost of gas these days, I can’t justify a trip to Taber for fresh picked corn on the cob, so we’ll live with corn from the back of the truck at Canadian Tire (in Cochrane) and agree with everyone that it isn’t as good as the fresh picked stuff, but, for me, it’s still delicious.