Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Posts from the Farm: Straw vs. Hay and Adventures in Freezing Sweet Corn

Hi everyone! I hope you're all having a wonderful week. I am truly enjoying my week on the farm, spending time with my family and basking in the familiarity of country life. This evening as I watched my neighbor round-bale his straw, I decided to take some pictures and share them with all of you. In addition, I thought I might indulge in a quick plant identification lesson too. Now here's the thing, I don't intend for this to be condescending. If you already know the difference between straw and hay, then just skip right over the next few pictures and read about the corn. But if you're one of those folks that takes a "hay ride" in the Fall but really hasn't given much thought as to what hay is, then read on....

There is a big difference between straw and hay. Straw is a by-product of wheat and serves as bedding for farm animals, a cover to keep your grass seed moist after planting, and as a nice fluffy filling for "hay ride" wagons, to name a few uses. Straw is golden in color. Hay, on the other hand, is made up of a mixture of grasses and legumes such as alfalfa and clover. For grazing animals, it contains a high amount of nutritional value. It is generally green in color. To review: Straw is bedding. Hay is food or fodder.

Here's the wheat field before harvest.

And tonight... after the wheat was harvested, and the straw was baled.

In this field, the farmer chose to make great big, giant round bales like this...

But you can also find it in rectangular bales that look like this.

Either way...straw is an excellent medium for a hayride! This October, when you're on your annual outing to the pumpkin patch for that perfect, happy, round pumpkin that will become the best jack-o-lantern ever....look a little closer on your "hayride" out to the field. If you're riding in a wagon full of smooth, golden, straws, then you can know that you're sitting on the left-behind stalk that grew the wheat your hamburger buns and breakfast cereal. If it's green and "flaky" with lots of plant particles everywhere, then, congratulations....you're on a authentic hayride. But I won't envy you. Hay is messier than straw AND itchy...it always gives me a rash. : ) So if you're on a "straw ride"...be glad! And now that you are privy to this little bit of plant identification trivia, you can sit and smugly smile amongst the other city slickers visiting the pumpkin farm and know that your group is actually sitting in straw!

Alrighty, enough of the country-style enlightenment. Let's talk about freezing corn!

On Monday morning I set out to pick up enough sweet corn for freezing. I called my friend, Kyle, because his family's farm always has sweet corn. He instructed me to come out to their farm office and pick some up. I told him I'd be over in 30 minutes. Then I called my mom to let her know I was leaving to get the corn. No reason, I just thought it would be nice to let her know where we were off to... since we're staying in her house and all. She told me that she loaned the "corn pot" to her neighbor. So next, I called my neighbor and she told me to stop on by and pick it up. So I did. As I pulled out of my neighbor's driveway, I called my grandparents (I intended to use my grandma's "canning kitchen" to process the corn) to give them my ETA with the corn. My grandpa insisted that I needed to stop by their house first and get his truck to pick up the corn. So...I stopped by his shop and switched my toddler and her carseat into his monstrous diesel dually. In case you're wondering, a dually is any pick-up truck with 4 wheels on the rear axle. Okay, so finally I was off! I arrived at the Tom Farms office after the longest 30 minutes ever. It seems that this is the way things go when I'm back home. My friend greeted me with a bit of disbelief, "Did you just pull up in that dually?" Well, of course I did. Just because I've subscribed to life in a sub-division these days doesn't mean that I can't handle a truck. Geesh. After all, you can take the girl out of the country...

Here I am behind the wheel.

My friend took me to their refrigerated semi trailer where they were keeping the sweet corn. It was empty. Darn it. We headed out to the field to see if there was anything left. Driving down the bumpy, muddy path to the sweet corn field, I was glad my grandpa made me take the truck. It was slim pickin' in the corn field after the weekend pickers and raccoons had gone through. We gleaned every row and came up with this much corn:

I think we were able to get around 4 bushel. Sweet Corn by the Numbers: A bushel of sweet corn in the husk weighs approximately 35 lbs. Cut off the cob and frozen, you can get about 14-17 pint of corn per bushel. There are 2 cups in a pint, so that's 28-34 cups of corn per bushel.

We freeze ours in 3 cup portions in quart size freezer bags. This time we ended up with about 40 bags of corn and couple plastic grocery bags leftover for eating off-the-cob.

I backed the truck up to my grandparent's garage where my grandpa and Jesse, his current high school hired helper, set to work husking the corn. When I was growing up, this was often my job. Back them, the whole family would gather to put up corn. This small amount of corn is small potatoes compared to the heaping truckfuls that we put up in those days. My mom, sisters, aunts, cousins, and grandparents would all have a job. The huskers, the silkers, the boilers, the cutters, and the baggers. Every summer we put up enough corn for 30-40 people to eat all year long. Watching my grandpa and Jesse shuck the corn made me a little sad. I realized that this is the first year that my Great-Grandpa Gene was not behind the truck shucking or in the kitchen cutting. I really missed him on Monday.

Once the corn was shucked, I moved it to the basement canning kitchen for silking. Silking is my least favorite part about sweet corn. Lucky for me, my grandma had an Amish girl helping her out for the day, so I assigned her the task of silking.

While Tricia silked the corn, I started a big pot of water boiling for blanching the corn. In the 9th grade I did a whole science fair project, complete with petrie dishes, a tri-fold poster display, and a detailed report about why it's important to blanch vegetables before preserving them. I think I received an honorable mention. I'll spare you all of the details of my report and give you the short version: Blanching vegetables destroys enzymes, changes the texture and sets the color. For extended storage, like freezing, destroying the enzymes improves the keeping quality of the vegetables. The same enzyme that causes fruits and vegetables to ripen also cause them to rot. Blanching before freezing is not necessary, but blanched vegetables will look and taste fresher for a longer period of time. I blanch my corn on the cob for 3-4 minutes.

While the corn blanches, make a cold water bath in your sink.

Immersing the corn in cold water immediately after blanching not only stops the cooking process, but it makes the corn easier to handle....

when cutting it off of the cob. I've found that the easiest place to cut corn is on a baking sheet with sides. You can get all kinds of cutting contraptions to remove the kernels from the cob, but I'm still partial to a plain old sharp knife. Be sure not to cut too deep to avoid getting cob in your corn. After I finish cutting the kernels off, I scrape my knife over the cob to get every last bit of the corn.

Keep a waste basket handy to discard the cobs.

I prefer to label my bags before filling them. It's just easier that way. I started out labelling each with "July 2010" and then I realized that July is the only time we freeze corn anyway, so I just went with "Corn 2010".

My youngest sister stopped by with my 10 week old niece to help out for a couple of hours. She took over the bagging. Baby Lilly was a fine helper. : )

Press out as much air as possible, and seal up the bags tightly before freezing them.

Freezing corn isn't tricky, but it is sticky and time consuming. If you can assemble a team of friends or family for this project, then go for it! It's easier to divide up the responsibilities and the time goes faster when you're in good company. Because of the mess that comes with putting up corn, some people prefer to do it outside, on covered picnic tables. The Amish girl that was helping me shared that her family does corn on their porch and then just hoses everything down when they finish. Easy clean up! However, I have found that corn attracts flies...and flies gross me out! Therefore, I prefer to clean up the mess indoors.

I had intended to do a series of posts on food preservation while I was home this week. Usually my grandma's garden is overflowing with veggies, ready to be preserved. Not this time. Apparently there was a mishap with some pesticide/herbicide that my grandpa sprayed across the road from the garden. The drift killed off the whole thing and by the time that I arrived in town, my grandpa had already tilled the shrivelled garden under. Bummer. I'm heading off to a county fair this evening, so I'll be looking for inspiration for my next post there instead. Stay tuned....


Ty'sMommy said...

Wow, does this ever bring back memories! We used to do this same process every summer with our sweet corn, back when Matt's grandma still lived on the farm. Since she passed away, we haven't had the heart (and some years, haven't had the corn! Damned thieves!) to keep the tradition up. But this post made me a bit sentimental and I'm thinking next year its going to have to start up again. Having farm fresh corn in the middle of winter is just too good to pass up.

Keri said...

Whoa.. that looks like a wonderful project and like you said, time consuming. But worth it, right? I want some corn now. Beautiful job, Blog looks good too.

Thought I'd invite you to come over and enter to win a $40.00 CSN GiftCard Giveaway. Great Odds. You could easily win, and if you enter, I hope you do. Keri

Kim said...

Krista- Loved this post and found it very interesting! This looks like such a fun family activity. Thanks for sharing it with us:)

Anonymous said...

Learning makes life sweet.

Mary | Deep South Dish said...

I just love your farm posts! Those grandpa's are smart huh, aren't ya glad ya took the truck? Too bad about the crops though. :( Well, the heat and humidity down here cheated me out of a nice summer crop of tomatoes, so I still have my fingers crossed for a fall one.

Reeni said...

I really enjoyed seeing this process Krista! Thanks for showing us how you do it and all the tips. Enjoy the rest of your visit!

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