July 18, 2015


It was a summer potluck in 2012 ago when I marveled at the taste, freshness and beauty of what looked like a very healthy robust corn.   My neighbor Rose, who brought the boiled corn cobs said they were Agassiz corn – referring to the farming town of Agassiz, around 77 miles east of Vancouver BC Canada near the border with Washington State.

Corn is grown in neighboring areas as well, mainly in Chilliwack where the golden ears is known as Chilliwack corn.  In Vancouver any corn harvested from the Upper Fraser Valley, where Chilliwack and Agassiz are both located, is referred to as Chilliwack Corn.

One of the major growers, Sparkes  Farm (www.chilliwackcorn.com), has little green barns with yellow roofs labeled Sparkes selling their corn in brown paper bags all over Chilliwack, Bridal Falls, and Agassiz and this year in Vernon and Kelowna .    See www.chilliwackcorn.com for locations.  Barns are open from 10 am till 6 pm, seven days a week.   Another farmer direct seller, Van Santen Farms, have all-yellow barn - lets. 

Owner and farmer Ian Sparkes said that harvest time depends on the weather:  the combination of heat and rain.  Sugar content goes up with heat.   The first batch was on sale July 1st , the earliest it has ever been because of the unusually hot summer Western Canada has been having.  Sparkes said they stagger planting the corn so that batches of corn are ripening every few days.

Chilliwack corn will be available for 12 weeks until the first week of October 5th.  Sparkes said there is usually a slowdown in sales after Labor Day (September 7, 2015) but in reality good corn can still be picked from the fields until November.

Sparkes does not grow the popular bicolor corn (with yellow and white kernels) marketed as Peaches and Cream.   Sparkes only grow all yellow which he calls Triple Sweet Jubilee.  Sparkes claim it has a higher sweetness and has never been genetically modified.    I did try the Peaches and Cream from Van Santen and it was not as sweet.  

The other big farmer, the Joiners, sell Peaches and Cream and the all-yellow corn everyone else just calls Jubilee.  But most corn from the Joiners are sold wholesale to independent corner stands – who peddle them at the back of a pick-up truck  - all over the Fraser Valley, Greater Vancouver and even as far as Sechelt in the Sunshine Coast.

Sparkes advises the public, “If you buy corn anywhere it is hard to really be sure of where it was grown unless you know the farm or farmer. There are some people selling corn from California, Florida or even as far south as Mexico, and labeling them as Chilliwack corn. This is very wrong and unethical but it is being done.  Technically, Chilliwack Corn is only grown in and around the Chilliwack area.”

When Buying and Cooking Corn

The best corn is the one harvested the same day or at most within three days, with fresh  green husks, not dried out, wrapping snugly the ear, not loose, with golden-brown silk.   Do not buy corn that has been opened up or partially stripped.  I know you want to examine the kernels but the store should have samples unhusked and that should be representative for the day.  Or peel the first layer of husk, and feel the kernels through the remaining husks, just like a good set of teeth, should have no spaces with a firm rebound.  That should give you a pretty good diagnosis.

This means that most corn you buy in the supermarkets are no longer in their peak sweetness unless they came in straight from the farm that day.   But who can tell? Sometimes the store clerks know, and sometimes they can be guessing. 

It doesn’t hurt to ask , especially in farmer’s markets, if the corn was picked early that day.

Another place you can get fresh Chilliwack corn is at Yellow Barn Country Produce (Exit 104 No. 3 Road off Trans-Canada Highway, 8 am to 8 pm) in Abbotsford.  The store is run by an 80ish grandma Marjorie Hodgins-Smith who has been farming for almost 60 years.  She grows both Jubilee and Peaches and Cream.  Marjorie said the real Chilliwack corn is the all-yellow Jubilee which local farmers started half-a-century ago.  Her tip: buy corn at her store around noon or later in the day which will guarantee “Just Picked”.  Earlier in the morning might be last night’s carryover.   Marjorie said the corn will be very sweet this year because of the heat, but there will be less bushels because of lack of rain.

Once the corn has been harvested, the corn’s sugar immediately starts turning to starch, thereby losing its natural sweetness.  Corn must be cooked asap!  If you do not intend to eat the corn right away, store them whole, unwashed in air-tight containers, or tightly wrapped bags and then refrigerate.   Consume them within five days.  

The best corn recipe according to Ian Sparkes:
Put the water to a rolling boil, go to your garden, pick up the corn, husk it and stick em in your pot .  After 3-4 minutes, once it returns to boil, immediately haul out the cobs.  I tried this (except the garden part) and it worked.  Corn kernels were soft and milky.  Perfection!  See an affirmation at www.susanbranch.com/how-to-cook-corn-recipe-corn-salsa/.  Do not add salt to the water or overcooked as it will toughen the corn.  Also see http://whatscookingamerica.net/Vegetables/BoilingCorn.htm.

Did you know there is a hairy silk for every corn kernel?  No wonder “cleaning” corn can be a chore.

How to make sure the corn is evenly buttered?  Ian Sparkes gave a tip: fill up a tall jar with water.  Microwave butter till runny.  Drop the butter into the jar and let the melted butter float in water. Then dunked the  cooked corn and when you pull it out, it will all be coated with butter.  Yummy!

Bring cash as most barns or stands do not have debit/credit card machines, except for Yellow Corn Country Produce.   A dozen corn fetches for around CAD$ 8.50  to $9.00.   ½ a dozen goes for CAD$ 5.00.   In some places CAD$ 0.70 to $1.00 a piece.  Yes a piece. which some locals do.  Bring a cooler, ice packs and plastic bags to store the corn for the commute back.

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