24 September 2010

Sweet corn (maize, maïs) chowder

Yesterday we brought in about the last of our sweet corn — that's maize or maïs — crop. It was 10 more ears, most of which were fully formed and pretty. Two or three were kind of stunted or only partially covered in kernels, but that's not bad. Sweet corn was a garden success this year.

Last year we planted only 6 or 8 stalks of corn, and that wasn't enough. Corn needs to be planted in quantity and the stalks need to be close together to make sure that cross-pollination takes place. You only get one or two ears per plant, so to make it worthwhile you have to plant a lot of it. We had about two dozen sweet corn plants, of two or three varieties, this year.

Some of the ears of corn that we harvested yesterday

That gave us enough corn so that we could really enjoy it in August and September. Sweet corn is not something you can find easily in France. Eating corn on the cob or corn soups isn't part of French custom. About the only way you ever see corn, in fact, is in salads — often in something called a salade mexicaine, with corn kernels and tomatoes. And that corn nearly always comes out of a can. They don't even sell frozen corn in the supermarkets.

These are pork lardons — smoked, salted, or plain —that you
can buy in packages at the supermarket in France.

We've eaten corn on the cob a half-dozen times now, and Walt made a batch of creamed corn a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday I decided to make corn chowder for lunch, with bacon and potatoes in it. I was inspired by a recipe in an American book called Cooking Across the South, published in 1980.

Instead of powdered cayenne pepper, we included a
sliced fresh cayenne pepper from the garden
in the soup. The herb is parsley.

I think you could make this chowder with canned or frozen corn kernels, but fresh is obviously better. You cut the kernels off the cob with a knife, standing the ear of corn on its end and slicing downward. Then scrape the ear to get all the good pulp and juice for the soup. Add as much water as you need to get a soupy consistency.
Corn Chowder

6 to 8 oz. diced ham or bacon (lardons)
1 Tbsp. butter
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
4 cups whole kernel corn (about 6 ears)
4 cups peeled diced potatoes
½ cup corn meal
½ cup cream
½ cup milk
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 tsp. turmeric (for color)
½ tsp. nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
4 cups hot water (or more as needed)
1 Tbsp. sugar (or more to taste)
fresh herbs (for garnish)

In a heavy kettle or pot, fry the pork lardons (diced ham or bacon) in a little butter until lightly browned; add onion and garlic, and cook until tender.

Add corn, potatoes, and corn meal, and stir well. Add seasonings to taste, and cover with boiling water. Add more or less sugar, to taste, depending on how sweet the corn is.

Cover pot and simmer for 45 minutes on low heat, stirring occasionally. Serve hot in soup bowls and garnish each serving with fresh chopped herbs (parsley, cilantro, basil, or tarragon, for example).

Some recipes call for using flour or cracker crumbs as a thickener in this kind of chowder, but to me it makes sense to thicken it with finely ground corn meal, if you can find it. Another way to thicken the soup is to use a potato masher to break up the cooked potatoes before you serve it.


  1. Do you ever give Callie the cob after you've eaten the corn off it? My dog loves this. Best done outside, though.

    This corn chowder looks great.

  2. Have you ever invited your neighbors to eat fresh corn?

  3. Ken, I don't think I have seen "corn meal" here in the UK. What would be an equivalent? I don't think it's the same as cornflour, which is very fine. Could it be polenta?

  4. Back in the late 70's, we had guests from Germany visiting us in Michigan. Corn on the cob was for dinner and they acted shocked...they thought it was food for the pigs. (Seed corn.) Boy did we win them over. They still talk about the corn to this day. You did a great job on your garden this year.

  5. Oh how lovely that corn looks! I made sure to eat a lot of it in California this summer because I knew I'd never see it back here in Paris. The occasional rather sad looking one, yes, but not fresh and sweet like we have in the US. And that pitiful salade mexicaine...why bother?

  6. Am I correct in thinking that corn meal equates to polenta--or pretty close? That recipe sounds very good, and one of these days the weather will get cooler for cooking and eating heavier soups.

  7. Emm, yes, and Jean, corn meal is more like polenta than it is like what is called corn flour in GB and what we call corn starch in the US. In France, polenta comes in seveal forms, including coarsely ground (semoule) and finely ground ("meal). At ParisStore in Tours-Nord or Blois I can buy polenta that is finely ground meal. it comes from Italy.

    Emm, by the way, our high temperature in Saint-Aignan today is predicted to be 59ºF. That's 15ºC, and it's chilly. Skies are gray.


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