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Sweet Corn

How to harvest corn

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Does your sweet corn look ripe for the picking? JUSTIN RUSSELL shares his tips on how to harvest, cook and eat the perfect cob.

My sweetcorn is almost ready to pick, and the anticipation is building. I love fresh corn. My wife loves fresh corn. Even my kids, who aren’t famous for their veg eating abilities, love fresh corn. So in the last few days there’s been much checking of the cobs to see if they’ve achieved the perfect point of ripeness.

A friend asked me yesterday how I know when the corn’s ready to pick. The two methods I’ve found most helpful are to check both the kernels and the flower silks on the top of the cobs. If the silks have gone brown and dry, that’s a fair indication that the cob’s ready. To be doubly sure, it’s always a good idea to peel back a section of the husk and pierce a few kernels with your fingernail. If the juice runs milky, the cob is ready. If the juice is clear, hold off just a bit longer.


Don’t leave it too long though. All of the lovely sugars in corn rapidly turn to starch after a period of time and the kernels become leathery and bland. You’re better off eating the corn a bit under ripe than over ripe. If in doubt, check the cobs daily and start eating them without delay. The other problem with corn harvesting is that unless you planted a succession of crops, every cob ripens pretty much at the same time. You can extend the harvest out over a few weeks, but beyond not much more. If the glut is too large, you can freeze the cobs. Note though, that frozen corn is a pale imitation of the real thing.

Here’s how you can enjoy the perfect cob of corn. First put a pot of lightly salted water on the stove and get it boiling. Then, go out into the garden and pull only as many cobs of corn as you need for a satisfying meal. As soon as the cobs are pulled, sugars start converting to starch, so rush the corn back into the kitchen, get it into the boiling water and cook for around five minutes. Serve immediately, smear on some butter if that’s your preference, then close your eyes and savour the taste of golden summer sunshine.