Delicious treat

news: Delicious treat

EACH MONTH, I vow not to mention the weather, not wishing to reinforce the British stereotype of us being a bunch of weather fixated bores. Having said that, the weather in May has been interesting, from a blistering hot beginning to a cooler and wetter middle.

This weather will have soaked previously cultivated soil quite well, leaving it moist and warm for starting off seeds. Remember not to dig soil when it is soaking wet as this can destroy the structure. Give it a couple of days to dry out before preparing the beds for planting. Sow seeds in moist, crumbly soil.

Vegetable of the month: Sweet Corn

When I first arrived in Portugal and spoke to my neighbours about eating sweet corn, their reactions varied from sheer incredulity to pure pity; I was that impoverished estrangeiro forced to eat chicken food.

Things have moved on a little…Now, sweet corn is sometimes seen on salads, but I have yet to see it served on the cob, or as a hot vegetable. Because of this, the seeds are not easily available in agricultural stores; you will need to buy them via the web or from supermarkets. Don’t be tempted to buy the dried corn, intended as chicken food, for planting; the varieties are different and it has none of the sweetness we expect from sweet corn.

Growing them

Sweet corn is a fairly easy crop to grow in Portugal as long as you follow a few basic rules:

• Sow seeds about 3cm deep and a foot (30cm) apart in good fertile soil, from the beginning of May until early July, to guarantee sunshine while the crop is growing. I sow two at each station (2cm apart) in case one doesn’t germinate (any spares can be carefully transplanted).

• Sow it in blocks, not in rows. Sweet corn, like all grasses, is wind pollinated, so block sowing ensures pollination takes place.

• Keep the soil well watered during the growing season and never let the plants dry out.

• Don’t sow near any other varieties of corn as cross pollination can result in poor tasting, unsweet corn

• Harvest the crop on time to ensure the crop is at its sweetest.

Harvest, cooking and storage

The corn will grow about a metre high by about six weeks and produce tassels containing male flowers and silks with female flowers – a little gentle shaking can aid pollination. Once fertilisation has taken place, the cobs grow rapidly until, after a few weeks, resembling the corn we know.

When the silks (white threads at the top of the cob) begin to darken, you can peel back a little of the husk and press into a corn seed with your thumbnail. If the liquid is clear, the corn isn’t ready; if it’s opaque, it’s overripe. A translucent, milky colour indicates perfection.

If you put the corn in boiling water for two minutes as soon as it is picked, you will eat the sweetest, most tender sweet corn ever and grow it for the rest of your life. The corn can be kept a few days in the fridge, but loses some of its sweetness.

Cobs wrapped in foil and cooked on the barbecue are also very tasty.

The only way of storing sweet corn is to blanch it, then freeze it as soon as possible after picking; although not as good as fresh, it is still a tasty treat in the middle of winter.

By Paul McKay