As you drive a few miles north of Hilo on the belt road you will spot acres and acres of corn growing on rolling hills with the blue ocean as a background...and you can almost hear Dorothy's famous quote from the Wizard of Oz!
It might not sound or look tropical, but corn does very well in the Hawaiian Islands... Corn is being grown in Hawai'i for food, seed, fuel and as an experimental crop, developing new strains that feel completely at home in countries with tropical climates.
Most mainland varieties of corn are not easily adapted to our climate, growing conditions, tropical diseases or pests, but scientists at the College of Tropical Agriculture at the University of Hawai'i have developed several hybrids and varieties that flourish in our unique tropical environment.
As I understand it, in mainland terms there are two 'food corn' varieties; the so-called 'sweet corn' and 'super-sweet corn'. Maybe it's the varieties of hybrids developed, or maybe it’s our volcanic soil or the combination of trade winds and briny sea breezes…or just all of the above, but Hawai'i grown corn seems to exceed the 'sweet taste' of mainland corn.
Hawai'i grown corn is unusually sweet, crispy and if I may even say, 'juicy'. The varieties of food corn preferred to grow here seem to be Hawaiian Super-Sweet #9 and Hawaiian Super Sweet #10.
Another favorite hybrid is H68 or as it is also known Trop-III; less sweet and crispy but with a pleasant buttery flavor. All three of these hybrids seem to grow better during our winter months.
Three mainland hybrids recommended for higher elevation planting or 'summer growing' in Hawai'i are Florida Staysweet, Jubilee and the white kernel Silver Queen.
A caution I read was that Florida Staysweet and Hawaiian Super-Sweets should not be planted close by to prevent cross-pollination which will yield a tough, non-sugary corn.
A farmer I know in Papaikou grows a very sweet white kernel hybrid which he calls ‘kea’ or simply, white corn. This particular variety was developed by Garvin Goode after several years of testing and experimenting with different white corn hybrids. This is his farm’s anchor crop in both spring and fall. During season, you can drive by the farm road in Papaikou and see signs for their corn.
The Island Goode's Farm Kea variety is deliciously crisp and so tender and sweet it barely needs cooking. The beauty of this corn is that contrary to what you hear about corn in general (from stalk to pot as quickly as possible), the kea variety can be stored in the refrigerator even up to 4 or 5 weeks without adverse effect and still be deliciously good if it is picked when the corn is still very young and tender. The second pick will result in even higher sugar content.
A large grower of corn on the Big Island is the Loeffler Farms of Mountain View in the Puna area. Their Hawai'i grown sweet corn can be found in different farmers markets and roadside stands around the island.
When buying corn at any island market, be sure it is grown in Hawai'i and help our own local farmers!
Sweet Sautéed Corn
A few years ago, I learned a little trick during a cooking class taken at the Hawaiian Vanilla Company in Pa’auilo. To make fresh corn taste even sweeter, the trick is to add vanilla!
Shuck and clean the corn and cut the kernels off the cob. Sauté the corn in a skillet with a pat or two of butter and add a vanilla bean that has been split in two; you can scrape the seeds and add them to the corn also. Add salt & pepper to taste.
I you don't have a vanilla bean, use a little bit of vanilla extract. For the equivalent of about 5 ears of corn, use 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of the vanilla and stir to blend well.
Try it next time you make your favorite fresh corn pudding...you won't believe how good it tastes!
Oh, and by the way, if you do use a vanilla bean, rinse it and let it air dry and you can use it again by placing it in your sugar bowl or jar. In just a few days, the sugar will absorb the vanilla flavor and aroma.
Yellow Rice with Corn and Chorizo
2 links Spanish chorizo, skin removed and sliced
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon cumin - or more
1 cup long grain rice
A few strands of saffron (*)
2 cups liquid (**)
2 ears of corn, sliced in rounds
1/2 cup corn kernels
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Cook the chorizo over medium heat in a non-stick pot or skillet. Set aside.
Sauté the sofrito (onion, garlic, red bell pepper, bay leaf, cumin) in the olive oil until onions are translucent. Add the rice and sauté a few minutes. Add the saffron, corn and liquids. Bring to boil then reduce heat. Cook, covered for 15 minutes, add chorizo slices. If rice is too dry, add a bit more liquid. Continue cooking for 5 more minutes. Take out the bay leaf for serving.
(*) If you want saffron to yield more color and flavor, steep the threads in a small non-reactive bowl with the juice of half a lemon or lime for about 10 minutes. Mash with a pestle or the bowl part of a stainless spoon to release color and flavor, then add to the recipe.
(**) Liquids can be chicken broth or stock and/or beer or dry Sherry, or a combination of all of them.
The following is a popular Cuban fritter made with corn.
Corn Fritters (Frituritas de Maiz)
6 – 8 ears of corn (*)
1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced
3 or 4 Tablespoons minced sweet onion
3 eggs beaten
4 Tablespoons whole milk
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon baking powder
5 – 6 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups vegetable oil for frying
Combine corn, garlic, onion, eggs, milk, sugar, salt, pepper, paprika, baking powder and 4 tablespoons of the flour and blend well in a processor or blender. Add the additional tablespoons of flour if the batter does not hold together on a tablespoon (it should be thick)
Heat about 2 inches of oil in a large skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat. Drop the batter by heaping tablespoons into the hot oil; the fritters should puff up a little. Fry for about 4 minutes turning them over when the edges look golden, after about 2 minutes transfer them to drain on paper towels. Serve while hot.
(*) You should have the equivalent of about 30 ounces of corn kernels. Since not all corn kernels come in uniform size you might need more or less, depending on the corn itself.
If more flour is needed to hold the batter together, don’t hesitate to add it. Just make sure the batter holds together so the fritters won’t come apart when frying.
If you add a little bit of vinegar, about a tablespoon or so, to the batter, the fritters will not absorb as much oil when frying.
A hui hou!
For The Hamakua Times of Honoka'a, Hawai'i - March 28, 2011 issue