By mid-July, Debbie Keene says the phone starts ringing at Conant Acres farm in Canton, Maine. “Everyone wants to know,” she says, “‘Is the corn ready yet?’” During the average year, all those callers will have to wait another couple weeks, Debbie says, but apparently plenty of folks think Conant Acres’ sweet corn is worth the wait. “We believe in buying good seed and we plant multiple varieties,” she says, “but it’s Montauk we like the best. It comes a little later but it has huge ears and they are very full. I’ve never had corn this sweet.”Our farmers' #sweetcorn is worth the wait. #FarmLove #ConantSweetCorn #summerlove Click To Tweet
While sweet corn does dominate late July through August, it is a minor sideline at the fourth-generation family dairy farm where three generations currently work together to milk 75 registered Holsteins, crop 300 acres and run a very successful breeding program.
Duane and Betty Conant along with their daughter Debbie and son Dennis and their spouses, Steve and Heidi, are all involved. Members of the next generation help out in a variety of ways with Debbie and Steve’s daughter-in-law Sarah Keene and their son-in-law Matt Sneller both working on the farm full-time. In addition to her farm responsibilities, Debbie also happily provides “Grandma daycare” services for her four great-grandkids aged four to eight months.
During sweet corn season, the family sets up a plywood stand under a huge old river maple tree and stocks it with freshly picked corn every morning “as soon as the cows get fed,” Debbie says, “and sometimes two and three more times a day.” About 10 lawn chairs are arranged under the tree and that’s where you’ll usually find Duane. “We’re trying to get my dad to slow down,” Debbie says. “People ask him why he doesn’t retire to Florida and he says, ‘Why would I do that when I can sit here in this office with four great-grandkids nearby and see all my granddaughter Kaicey’s basketball games?’”
Occasionally, the farmstand might also have some cucumbers or summer squash, but mostly people come for the corn. “We’ve done sweet corn for as long as I can remember,” Debbie says. “I can remember as a kid being in the back of the truck before we were big enough to pick. Our job was to put the corn in old grain bags we’d saved. We’d pick maybe 100 dozen at a time and 10 dozen fit in each grain bag.”
Conant Acres is well-situated between two paper mills so they get a surge of commuter traffic heading home every afternoon in addition to a good flow of tourists visiting nearby Lake Anasagunticook. There are fans who stop by three or four times a week until Labor Day when the corn season trails off. The family offers a baker’s dozen and some people buy several dozen at a time, but “one man comes by pretty regularly and he just buys two ears each time,” Debbie says.
The Conants have perfected the science of freezing corn for the many months it is not in season. As a young girl, Debbie remembers her grandmother helped out at a local corn shop and the special double-bladed knife her “gram” used. “When I was growing up, we had two of those knives, but they were both right-handed and I’m left-handed,” Debbie recalls. “I would hack the cob to bits.” As an adult, she remedied this problem by getting a custom left-handed knife made: “Now I can actually cut corn.” This is a good thing because she freezes about 45 to 50 bags every summer so the family can enjoy their own corn year-round in favorites like a version of Shepherd’s Pie they call China Pie, a name apparently adopted from French Canada where the substantial dish of layered ground beef, corn and mashed potato was served to Chinese workers on the railroads. Hearty corn chowders and chicken-corn chowder with rice or local potatoes also star the farm’s own corn throughout the cold weather.
But during the summer, the only way the Conants really eat their corn is boiled on the cob. “There’s a pot that basically just sits on the stove for that month and we eat corn every night with whatever else we’re eating,” says Debbie. Sometimes, she says, they do grill it and one extra-special twist the family likes is corn that is husked, wrapped in bacon and then grilled. Mostly though, all that their super-fresh corn needs is a kiss of Cabot sweet butter to deliver a double dose of summer sweetness.
Conant Acres Corn Tips Debbie Conant offers these tips for cooking and for preserving the sweetness of summer corn:
To make corn for a crowd: Debbie Conant credits the farm’s hoof-trimmer with this trick. You’ll need a large, clean hard cooler. Fill it with husked corn on the cob and then cover the corn with boiling water. Close the lid of the cooler and in 45 minutes to an hour, you’ll have a cooler full of cooked corn.
Two ways to freeze summer corn:
- Blanch shucked corn on the cob for three minutes in unsalted, boiling water. Remove cobs and drop immediately in a sink filled with ice water. When they have cooled, cut kernels from cobs and freeze in bags of desired size.
- Fill a 9 by 13 baking pan about 1/2 to 3/4 full of raw corn kernels. Mix in 1 cup of light or heavy cream and 1 cup melted Cabot salted butter. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes. Cool and freeze in desired portions. The Conants use this in corn chowders, chicken-corn soup and in the version of Shepherd’s Pie they call China Pie.
We’ll butter you up! Stop by Conant Acres or one of these other Cabot farms for fresh, sweet corn and a coupon for Cabot butter.
A few great corn recipes that use corn in different ways:
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Melissa Pasanen is an award-winning Vermont-based journalist and cookbook author with a focus on food, farming and sustainability. She was the writer for The Cabot Creamery Cookbook (Oxmoor House, 2015).