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Illinois Farm Families Blog

Oct 16 2013

Paul Taylor: Sweet Corn 101

The next time you open a can of whole kernel corn, take a moment to imagine how that sweet little pop of flavor from each kernel began life.  It might very well have grown here, on my farm in North Central Illinois.  I grow a variety of crops, but most years I also grow vegetables for Del Monte.  My family’s farm has been raising vegetables since the 1940s and even after all these years, I never grow tired of fresh corn.  The temptation to snap off a ripe ear and devour it raw while standing in my field is one I give in to every harvest!

You might not realize that sweet corn only accounts for one out of every 100 ears grown in the U.S. Unlike field corn, or “yellow dent” corn as it’s sometimes called, sweet corn is typically harvested in July and August before the sugars convert to starch.  Because this corn is destined for the can, my fields are harvested mechanically by a harvester like the one shown above.  It gently picks the whole ear and puts it in to a cart, which is different from a regular combine that harvests the field corn ears and separates the grain from the cob in one single process.  In just a few hours after leaving the field, my sweet corn will be in the can. Depending on the moisture content and when it’s harvested, it is destined either for whole kernel corn or creamed corn.

Of course, there’s no telling how the weather will affect the crop and if you happen to drive by a field of sweet corn, you may notice how stalks twisted and tangled, due to wind and weather.  That can make harvesting more tricky than usual.  The weather can pose challenges for other crops as well – my pea harvest was reduced 50 percent by diseases caused by cool conditions and saturated soils in late spring.

But the sweet corn was a success. And in the end, we have a shelf-stable can that means we can enjoy corn any time we want it, and not just for a few precious weeks in late summer. 

In celebration of delicious sweet corn and What's Cooking Wednesday, add this Del Monte recipe for Cheddar Corn Muffins to your dinner tonight! And for more about Paul Taylor and his vegetable operation, see his sweet corn video series:

Chapter 1: What's in That Field? Sweet Corn vs. Field Corn
Chapter 2: GMO or No?
Chapter 3: Pest Control for a Bountiful Harvest


Paul Taylor | Illinois Farmer

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