Stealing the Correct Corn

Some people tell me that as teenagers, they used to sneak to the edge of a farmer’s cornfield and swipe a few ears. Hmmm. I’m guessing the farmer would have said ‘yes’ if they’d asked, but it does raise an interesting question: what’s the best kind of corn to swipe?

Until Melissa and I moved out into the country, I didn’t realize that farmers plant two types of corn. The first is sweet corn. It’s what people eat. It, not surprisingly, is sweet. Sweet corn is harvested when the kernels are nice and moist, and the plant is still green.

The second kind of corn is field corn, or livestock corn. It’s what livestock eat. This isn’t very sweet. This corn is left on the field to dry out, and isn’t harvested until the plant—and the kernels—are dry. 

But for a few months, both types exist side by side. I’ve been fascinated by this little secret that most people don’t notice as they whiz by on the highway: You can tell the difference between sweet corn and field corn by the color of the tassels.

Sweet corn tassels are whitish-yellow. Field corn tassels are orangish.

See the difference?

It’s probably not a good idea to steal a farmer’s corn, but at the very least, you can impress friends and family with your knowledge when you pass the two different types of corn.

Hope everyone had some sweet corn for their Labor Day picnic, ’cause the season (at least up here in the north) is almost over. 


8 thoughts on “Stealing the Correct Corn

  1. Well, you learn something new every day!! (About the tassels on the corn, I mean.) You are such a font of knowledge. Your picture to illustrate the point was excellent. Wonder when I’ll next be riding in farming country with someone in the car I can bedazzle with this new- found knowledge?

  2. Catherine, love this blog and all your farm tales. it’s good to learn something new every day. Didn’t post before because I’m shy because of my english. Hope you and everyone can understand.
    Greetings from Spain.

  3. Maite,

    Yo hablo espanol un poquito. Su ingles es perfecto. Tristamente, mi espanol NO es perfecto (esta perfecto? Gaack.)

    Gracias por su palabras.

    (and I hope you’ll post again!)

  4. Certainly no big fields of corn like down by you. But most of us (silly) gardeners keep trying to get some sweet corn for our own eating. How often do we get it to mature? Oh, I’d say ’bout 2 years out of every ten.

  5. I always felt that getting cow corn was just punishment for people who steal farmer’s livelihoods… now you’ve let the cat out of the bag! lol

    Here in NH there’s more or less no sweet corn left – Irene flattened it! Worse we didn’t get the late season Silver Queen that I’ve been waiting for all summer long. bummer. enjoy what’s left of your corn season!

  6. And there’s a difference between field corn and silage corn…the field corn is planted in neat rows and silage corn looks like it was randomly scattered. Though field corn sometimes turns into silage if mother nature intervenes — a strong storm can knock the corn flat and then it’s silage!

    Love your blog.

  7. My brother-in-law worked for a farmer when he was a teen. The farmer told him to take some corn home to the family one day. What Jeff didn’t know is that the farmer planted field corn on the outer edge of all the sweet corn–to fool thieves. So Jeff brings home all this corn that the family spends half the day shucking, cooking and freezing, saving enough for that evening’s meal. Sitting down to dinner, anticipating that first bite of delicious sweet corn, they bite into a tough, chewy and flavorless cob. They laugh about it now….

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