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Sensi Magazine

August Corn Lust

Aug 08, 2018 05:17PM ● By John Lehndorff
August is the juiciest month. The long, hot, sweaty season culminates in an embarrassment of sweet vegetables and fruits ripe for the picking in a 31-day span.

When I was a kid, I spent as much of the month in a bathing suit as I could. On the way home from the pool or lake or ocean, the family would stop at the farm stand to get peaches and cream corn, all the sweeter for having been picked that day. Mom would pull back the silk on each ear—at least three per person—checking to make sure they weren’t buggy. We’d pick up giant misshapen tomatoes still warm from the field and grab crisp pickling cucumbers and green beans.

At home, I often ended up performing the ritual husking of the ears and trimming of the green beans. I found it strangely satisfying even back then. Dinner was ecstatically al fresco in the evening as the mosquitos descended while we sat around an old picnic table on the wraparound porch.

There would be meat, sometimes steak cooked over charcoal, or roasted chicken. Mom liked her corn boiled—frankly, it was overcooked—but it didn’t matter after we rolled ears atop a 1-pound block of salted butter. Often there was Austrian sweet-and-sour cucumber salad or a green salad crowned with tomato wedges. We’d finish up with hunks of crimson watermelon crammed with seeds that we’d spit over the railing.

After such a meal, the kids would need to be hosed off. Which may explain why I was still usually wearing my bathing suit.

It’s been awhile since I needed to be hosed off at the end of a watermelon-capped meal, and the world today can sometimes seem like a different place than it was back then. Some things, however, never change. In August, we want our food origins to be as close to our homes as possible.

Even if we’re indifferent to the origins of our food during the rest of the year, this month, we care. We just say no to the dehusked ears of corn wrapped in plastic sold at the big grocery stores. We want the ears from here, picked just down the way there mere hours ago, because its flavors reflect what the French call terroir—the essence of the ground in which it was grown. It tastes like home.

To Serve Colorado

Colorado’s unique growing conditions create super-sweet produce with a summer cycle of hot, sunny days and cold, dry nights teasing out every sugary nuance. That’s how you get the state’s ask-by-name signature crops: Olathe sweet corn, Rocky Ford melons, San Luis Valley potatoes, Palisade peaches, and Pueblo chilies. Well, those and another high-value Colorado agricultural product: cannabis.

All-Colorado meals are no sweat in August after a stop at a farmer’s market or farm stand for the critical element: enough ears for us to gorge. Olathe sweet corn is great, but excellent corn is grown all over the state, including on Munson Farm northeast of Boulder.
During the short local corn season, I shop around to taste as many different varieties—all-yellow, all-white, and bicolor. Some are sugary, some corn-ier, some creamier than the others. I grill, steam, or microwave ears, just enough to warm them up.

These days, I don’t need my ears butter-poached—just a little sea salt and a fresh grind of black pepper does the trick. That said, I have a tough time resisting eating elote—a Mexican-style grilled corn—when I encounter it. I’ll even add fresh kernels cut from the cob to chopped salads.

Rocky Ford Sorbet and Fried Red Tomatoes

Rocky Ford is not a variety of melon. It’s a chunk of land in the Arkansas Valley near Rocky Ford well-suited to growing dozens of melon varieties. When they are ripe, these honeydews, cantaloupes, watermelons, and muskmelon are so sweet, juicy, and aromatic they are known to make a grown man sigh. Especially the muskmelon.

The melons don’t need a lot of fancy toppings to bring out the flavor depths. Just top with salty cheese or slices of salumi or dip in Greek yogurt. Or you could try to make my sorbet/granita frozen melon delight. The recipe isn’t precise, because I am not a precise cook.

Purée ripe melon with a little sugar or honey, some fresh lime juice, and a little salt in a blender. Taste it, then tweak the flavor to your liking. Freeze the mix in ice cube trays. To serve it, I chill the blender’s glass container in the freezer then purée the frozen melon mixture, pour into glasses, garnish with mint leaf, perhaps add a splash of Stem Cider’s Hibiscus Session apple cider. Raise the glass and cheers.

When the melons are ripe and the prices cheap, I’ll buy in bulk and purée a mess of them, stockpiling freezer bags of cubes. August is also the month I ask farmers for any ugly, slightly beat-up overripe tomato “seconds” to turn into future sauce.

Likewise, a sun-warmed garden tomato—whether San Marzano, Cherokee Purple, Green Grape, or Brandywine—needs nothing more than sea salt but that doesn’t mean I don’t wallow in caprese salads (tomato, fresh mozzarella, and basil), tomato sandwiches, and at least once a season, fried red tomatoes. The secret is finding just the right heirloom tomatoes—ripe but still firm—and cut 1- to 2-inch slices from the middle. It’s the filet mignon of the fruit. I dry the slices, dip them in egg and then in cornbread mix, and fry until crisp in oil, butter, or bacon fat. It’s a fine side dish or a base for a veggie benedict.

When Spuds Meet Peppers

Potatoes aren’t nearly as sexy as peaches or muskmelon, but the San Luis Valley and the Greeley area grow dozens of varieties of first-class Russet, yellow (like Yukon Gold), red potatoes (like Colorado Rose), and various purple and blue spuds.

I love the multicolored, creamy-textured fingerlings that are so easy to cook. Whether I am grilling, roasting, or pan-frying them, I microwave them first to speed the process. I grill them along with whole Colorado green chilies like Pueblo’s Mosca variety. The potato and peeled roasted peppers can be served smashed or turned into warm potato salad with a mustardy vinaigrette or roasted garlic aioli.

This month, you see Palisade peach stands across the state, but some devotees trek to Palisade and environs to find obscure varieties that never make it to the Front Range.

Do you want to make guests gush at your all-Colorado-ingredients dinner? Serve Peach pocket pies. Peel and dice a bunch of ripe peaches then drain off some of the juice. Toss them with sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg. Make a standard pie crust or roll out the supermarket variety. Using a glass or other container cut out large dough circles. Spoon on some peaches, leaving room to brush the edge with an egg-milk wash. Fold over and brush with eggmilk wash and sprinkle with sugar. Cut one vent in the top. Bake for about 30 minutes in a 325-degree oven or until golden brown, and serve with locally churned vanilla gelato.

For now, banish thoughts of the buttoned-up autumn approaching and eat another peach. Preserve the flavors of August while you can, and you can bring a bite of summer out of the freezer or pantry to brighten a dark-tooearly winter evening.

Kicked-Up Corn

Spice up your late-summer barbecues with this recipe for Elote, the Mexican take on grilled corn on the cob packed with refreshing flavors that put our basic butter to shame.

4 ears sweet corn, shucked
4 tablespoons plain greek yogurt
4 tablespoons light mayonnaise
¼ cup grated cotija or
parmesan cheese
ground red chile powder or chili
powder mix, to taste
¼ cup cilantro, finely chopped
1 lime, cut into wedges

DIRECTIONS // Grill sweet corn, rotating occasionally until cooked through with grill marks. Mix yogurt and mayonnaise, spread evenly over grilled corn. Sprinkle cheese and chile powder evenly over each ear, then sprinkle on cilantro. Squeeze a lime wedge over the whole thing and chomp away.

Colorado Crop Celebrations Calendar

Parties from Olathe to Pueblo celebrate the season’s ripe bounties.

Sweet Corn, Aug. 4
Endless ears of buttered corn and country music are on tap at the Olathe Sweet Corn Festival.
Peaches, Aug. 17–18
Peach pie, peach cobbler, peach ice cream and peach cocktails are served at the Palisade Peach Festival.
Melons, Aug. 18
Watermelon Day at the Rocky Ford Fairgrounds features, literally, tons of free watermelon.
Tomatoes, Aug. 25
Sample dozens of varieties of Lycopersicon esculentum grown by local gardeners and share tomato-growing expertise at the Taste of Tomato in Boulder.
Potatoes, Sept. 8
The San Luis Valley Potato Festival in Monte Vista features fresh baked potatoes and a mashed potato dunk tank.
Green Chilies, Sept. 21–23
Chile-roasting perfume and fiery roasted green chile quesadillas await at Pueblo’s Chile & Frijoles Festival.