Tuesday, September 6, 2011

To Peel or Not to Peel

I hope you read Boston Zest. If you read me, you only get random burbling about my life and wanderings, which are rarely interesting or productive unless you have a low threshold for boredom. Sometimes Possum says or does something brilliant, which is worth documenting, but my feeble attempts at cooking, shopping, and dressing like an adult surely provide only mild entertainment, so you should aim higher.

If you read Boston Zest, you'll find all sorts of useful information about Boston and the area: stories about food, wine, events, shops, neighborhood doings, and dogs. Lots of good things you might not otherwise have known about. The authors, Penny and Ed Cherubino, always have your best interests at heart, and their photos are a million times better than mine, too.

Today, their post is about peeling the corn on the cob at the farmer's market before buying it. Farmers are naturally against this, whereas many shoppers insist on it. Penny and Ed are experienced, adventurous cooks and produce buyers, and they know how to predict what's inside an ear of corn without peeling it. I don't, and I'd never trust myself, even though they spell out what to do.

At the end of their story, they ask us Peelers to explain why we peel. Okay, here goes:

I peel because my mother taught me. It brings results. I have peeled from childhood, and will always peel, unless I'm forbidden to, and then I may have to stop eating corn on the cob.

Why do I peel? In a nutshell: WORMS!  I got a big fat one earlier this summer when one of us forgot to peel and we were both so grossed out we didn't enjoy the corn even after I sent the worm down the disposal, cut off a good chunk of that ear, and boiled the heck out of it. Now, I know that a worm is a good thing, a sign that the corn wasn't sprayed with pesticide. Even so, big fat worms freak us out.

There's a second reason to peel: not all corn is created equal. Sometimes there's an ear that is underdeveloped or weird, and you don't want that one. The word my husband and I coined to describe this, and other things that look meager and don't meet our expectations, is "spingy," with a soft "g." It's a combination of "sparse" and "mingy." (According to various dictionaries, "mingy" may be a combination of "mean" and "stingy," so we're just taking it further.) Spingy corn is depressing to eat, and if you persevere, you can usually find better ears in the same pile.

How do I peel? So carefully that you can barely tell I did it. I gently loosen the top just enough to peek at the first inch of the corn, which is enough to tell you everything. I can actually fold the husk back neatly, so no one can tell I did it. There's never enough exposure to damage the corn. And if there's no worm and the corn doesn't look spingy, I'm buying the corn anyhow.

I would not pay for permission to peel. According to Boston Zest, some farmstand on the Cape charges $2 an ear if you peel the corn and 50 cents if you don't.  If you're going to charge me extra for my peeled corn, I will never buy anything from your stand and I will tell everyone I know — and don't know — to avoid you, too. Because that's just unreasonable.

If you don't like how your customers are peeling, teach them to do it correctly. Or open a few ears yourself — just one or two inches, and display them on top of the pile in some glaringly obviously arranged way — and we shoppers will buy those. If they look great and we can see what they're getting, we will buy them. The reason we don't buy ears that other shoppers have already peeled and rejected? The WORM potential! Show me there's no worm and I'm buying.

If a farmer is going to forbid me to peel his corn, that's his right. I don't have to buy his corn. But if I do buy it sight unseen, that farmer had better be prepared to drive to my house at dinner time if I find a worm, replace the ear, pat my shoulder, and tell me it's okay, it's just a big, fat, disgusting old worm living in my food. If we can sign that contract, I'll stop peeling.


  1. It's all in the perspective: think of the worm as extra organic protein that you didn't have to pay for. A BAHGAIN, dahlink!

    Is it a NE thing to refer to husking corn as peeling?

  2. There are times when I'm vegetarian; confronting worms is one of those times!

    I shucked corn when I lived in Pennsylvania. I husk it with abandon when I'm in my own kitchen, and I peel away a tiny bit when I'm at the farmer's market. Does that make sense? I never thought about it before. Do people shuck in New England?

  3. Thank you for all the kind words and for linking to us. We linked right back at you!

    @aek, I always love your comments and this one is a gem.

    I said peel because that's what the sign said but I call it husking corn if I'm about to denude an ear. Shucking is another great word.


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