After planting the sweet corn crop on April 22, the harvest is in full swing at R. Smits and Sons farm and fresh ears made their first appearance at the Oak Park Farmers Market last Saturday. Marketgoers found Smits’ sweet corn in a red trailer at the market and ears will cost seven dollars per dozen. Corn season runs through early October.

Smits, whose family farm has been part of the Oak Park Farmers Market since 1976, grows non-GMO “sugary enhanced” corn known for being tender and sweet. The type is also prized for slowly converting sugar to starch after, which after picking helps it retain sweetness for several days after harvesting.

“Our corn is unique because it is picked the same day that we sell it,” said Farmer John Smits. “My brother picks it at 5 a.m. on Saturday mornings before we haul it to Oak Park.”

The 1,200 ears (30 bushels) which Smits brought Saturday sold out quickly. “He will bring more corn next week. Nichols (Farm and Orchard) had lovely corn, too,” said Colleen McNichols, market manager.

In years past, shoppers have been known to make quite a mess by inspecting every ear of corn before purchase, but COVID-19 related modifications have made the farmers market a touch-free experience this season. Smits has increased staff to help shoppers select their corn. Staff will feel each ear to make sure kernels feel full and reach the end of cob before bagging them for customers.

“I have never had a bad ear of corn from Smits’ farm,” said McNichols. “I’ve never shucked any before buying. I just grab a big arm load and it is perfect every time.”

The Shawnash Institute has partnered with R. Smits and Sons to purchase bushels of corn at a wholesale price and deliver it to several Oak Park organizations including Beyond Hunger and New Moms. Shawnash has a mission to “connect those in need with healthy food” and it has a history of fundraising for LINK coupons used at the market. LINK and SNAP benefits are accepted at the market and will now be accepted for online pre-orders through the What’s Good app.

McNichols was quick to remind market shoppers to wear sun hats and carry umbrellas to combat the sweltering heat this summer. She encourages shoppers to bring a wagon or cart to haul heavy corn.

 “I wait for this day all year,” said McNichols. “I am excited. People all over Oak Park will have access to the freshest sweet corn in Illinois.”

Market Ready Recipe:
Mel’s Grilled Corn on the Cob

 1. Peel back the corn husks, remove silks, but leave husks in-tact attached.

 2. Pull the husks back over the corn cob and secure at the top by tying with a strip of husk or a piece of string.

 3. Plunge the prepped corn cobs into a pot of water and allow them to sit, submerged for 30 minutes. Don’t skip this step; wet husks protect the delicate kernels during cooking.

 4. Meanwhile prepare a medium hot grill.  I use a charcoal grill and prefer to prepare an indirect fire to grill corn, but corn can be cooked over a gas grill as well.

 5. Shake excess water from cobs and place over the coals.

 6. Cover the grill and cook for about 25 minutes, turning the corn turning frequently until charred, but not scorched on the outside.  If corn is cooking too fast move it to a cooler section of the grill.

 7. Allow corn to cool slightly, peel back the husks and serve.

Once you have cooked corn in the husk the serving possibilities are simply endless!  Enjoy hot corn with a little butter, Parmesan cheese and Italian seasoning, slather it with some basil pesto, or try the indulgent elote inspired topping below.

Evoking the Elote

If you’d like to mimic the flavors of Mexican corn served from carts across Chicago give this quick recipe a try! 

4-6 ears of grilled corn on the cob

3 Tablespoons butter, melted

¼ Cup mayonnaise

3 Tablespoons Cotija cheese

Ancho chili powder, chopped cilantro and lime wedges

Brush the hot grilled corn with melted butter and spread with the mayonnaise.  Sprinkle with Cotija cheese and garnish with ancho chili powder, cilantro and a squeeze of lime.

Masks, stress and the farmers market

One Farmers Market goer witnessed a verbal altercation over masks near the market on Saturday. Oak Park resident, Amy Merrick said via Twitter:

“Well, a giant argument about wearing masks outside the Oak Park Farmers Market just reminded me what a huge amount of stress everyone is under. Try to be kind to each other.”

Commenting on her own post Merrick went on to say she didn’t see how the incident started and appeared to be about more than masks, but said two men “both were so worked up that when they surrounded me and my dog, I couldn’t really figure out what had happened.”

Wednesday Journal followed up with Merrick who added insight via email.

“The older man claimed that the younger one was a ‘menace’ and a ‘danger to society’ for not wearing a mask. The younger man said he had been wearing a mask at the market, but he took it off once he left,” wrote Merrick. “They were both so angry that they then started yelling at me to take their side. I tried to say that everyone is under a lot of stress and maybe they could let it go.”

Merrick’s dog quietly ate grass the entire time.

Colleen McNichols, market manager, was unaware of the incident as it did not take place in the market or involve market volunteers or staff.

“We are fortunate to be guided by the village’s Public Health Department. Not many markets have that kind of expertise to establish safety standards,” said McNichols. “We give free masks to those who forgot theirs.”

McNichols went on to remind people wearing a mask guarantees access to the “freshest sweet corn in the state.”

Melissa Elsmo

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