November 30, 2020

Another Look: That for which every heart yearns


This is the time of year a Midwestern boy like me looks forward to with all his heart.

It is, without a doubt, the very best time of year.

For this is the season when the three most wonderful words in the English language fill the air.

Three simple, sublime words.

They are everywhere. These three magnificent words come to mind whenever you drive down the road, almost any road around here. When you are out and about, when you go to the store, when you come home and walk in the back door, you think about these words and they make you smile.

They are the most splendid, the most appealing, the most astounding words ever spoken.

They represent what I believe may be the greatest gift in all of God’s creation.

These words bring the promise of satisfaction, delight, and wonder. They capture our hopes and dreams, the yearning we all have deep within us.

As far as I am concerned, there is no greater three-word phrase in all the world. 

Fresh sweet corn!

Makes me want to break into song: ‘Tis music in the sinner’s ear! ‘Tis life and health and peace.

Barely two, yea three other phrases are like unto it…

  • Fresh green beans.
  • Fresh tomatoes.
  • Fresh cantaloupe.

Yet even these wonders do not rise to the level of “fresh sweet corn.”

I love sweet corn. It truly is better than sex! I’m not lying! All across the Midwest tonight, a husband and wife will finish what husbands and wives do, and the wife will ask the husband: “How was that?” And, if the man is honest, he’ll say “Well, it wasn’t sweet corn, but it was nice.” It’s a fact! Sweet corn is better than sex!…fresh sweet corn!…Store bought sweet corn, yes, sex is definitely better than that!

• Garrison Keillor

Sweet corn is, of course, best when picked fresh from the field or garden, then immediately placed in the hands of the fastest sprinter in the county. While cheered on by eager onlookers to set a new land speed record, said sprinter makes a beeline for the kitchen, peeling and slinging off the husks as he races toward the screen door. When he reaches the house, his teammates fling open the door, and our heroic runner breathlessly crosses the finish line, transferring the naked ears into the hands of dear old mom in her checkered apron. With a sure, experienced touch, she drops them at once into a large pot of boiling water.

The harvesting team repeats this routine as often as necessary until the pot is full and the air becomes sweet with steam.

When the golden ears are tender, mom whisks them to the table on a platter. Impatient, hankering hands grab the sacred treasure, slather it in butter, sprinkle it with salt, and devour it as soon as humanly possible. We grip the steaming ears by our fingertips, and like the carriage of an old typewriter we crunch our way down the first line, hit the return and reset, then start chomping down the next row. Over and over again.

Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. Return.

Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. Return.

Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. Return.

The gods look down on us with jealousy. They follow the action like spectators at a tennis match.

As for we who feast, we hardly pause to breathe, and the full ears on the plate are quickly replaced by the colorless cobs of those we’ve decorticated.

Once more, the track and field harvest team is deployed. The screen door slams behind them.

While they go about their business, we who are alive and remain turn our attention to the secondary parts of the meal: grilled chicken or pork chops, green beans, fresh tomatoes, jello salad. We slake our thirst from large, sweating glasses of iced tea.

Then the door flies open and the next batch is dropped into the pot.

The Messianic Banquet can continue.

Amen. Maranatha. Even so, boil quickly!

And there amid the laughter around the family table, the clinking of plates and silverware, the raising of glasses, and the sweet heavenly “crunch” of summer in the Midwest, the song of St. Garrison fills our hearts…

As we travel along on our earthly path
Through this beautiful world God has made
Tramping along at a stately pace
Like elephants on parade.
We discover the pleasure of grass and sun
And music and light and talk
And the joy when a day of hard work is done
And you’ve cleared five acres of rocks.
The joy as you climb in your bed at night
The joy of the brand-new morn
But of all these pleasures the greatest delight
Is a supper of fresh sweet corn.

O that fresh sweet corn that the Lord sent down
So we know how heaven will be,
No grief, no tears, just the young golden ears
Plenty for you and for me.
Though the road be hard and deep is the night
And the future we cannot see
Take my hand, dear Lord, and I’ll be all right
If you’ll save a few ears for me.

…We praise you Lord for this good good life
And praise for the day we were born
And the gifts you have given including this heaven-ly
Fresh sweet corn.

• A Prairie Home Companion script—May 7, 2005


  1. ”decorticated”…marvelous! A new word that I’ll have to find a use for.

  2. “Juicy Peaches” – sigh

  3. flatrocker says

    Personal best – 22 ears in one sitting – top that!
    And only midwestern demurement compelled me the stop.
    Not that I’m bragging of course.

  4. Robert F says

    You can keep the ears of corn. Fresh local peaches are fruit perfection incarnate. I let them get very ripe. The sweetness is like an incredible dream, it induces dizziness and a kind of inebriation, and the juice is so abundant that it makes a mess every time you take a bite. And the peach orchards are as beautiful as the peaches themselves. Eat a peach.

    • When we lived in Vermont, a local missionary would drive to Georgia in the summer, fill a big box truck with peaches and bring them back for us. Take that meal I outlined and give me fresh peaches or my wife’s peach pie for dessert, and this boy will swear the millennium has arrived.

      • This comment was meant for your comment about the crabs.

      • Robert F says

        I never believed in pie until I met my wife, and it took her a long time to teach me. I was a cake-eating kid; my mom never made pie, though she and my dad purchased and enjoyed some dessicated looking ones from the supermarket that held no allure for me whatsoever. Now I have an inordinate love of good pie; peach, strawberry-rhubarb, apple, pumpkin, sweet potato, pecan, fudge-pecan (Oh my!), etc. Another thing for which I’m eternally indebted to my wife. What is more perfect than good pie?

    • Same here except it was blue crabs out of Barnegat Bay in Jersey. Drop a piece of chicken on a rope in and when you pull it up they’re hanging on for dear life.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      Fresh peaches are hard to argue with, but fresh strawberries have scarcity going for them. Where peaches last through mid- and late summer, strawberries have about two weeks: three weeks tops. You can cheat by making road trips southward early in the spring, and northward late in the spring. But for genuinely local strawberries, the opportunities are fleeting.

      On the other had, and returning to peaches, you know what is really hard to beat? Peach ice cream with fresh peaches sliced on top.

      • “On the other had, and returning to peaches, you know what is really hard to beat? Peach ice cream with fresh peaches sliced on top.”

        Oh my, yes! Home made peach ice cream with fresh peaches! And don’t forget to save some of the peaches to make peach cobbler!

        And, if you’ve never tried it before, slice fresh peaches, put them into freezer bags and later eat them like Popsicles!

        I’m starving! ?

  5. Robert F says

    Jello salad! Ugh! Get that neon green stuff away from my food!

    • That was a bone thrown to old Midwest tradition. I haven’t had jello salad since at least the last century. But when I was growing up, that was the only salad I knew.

      • I just recently returned to the joys of jello salad. With fruit. Yum!

      • Robert F says

        My wife’s family, from Indiana and Texas on the distaff side, have the nasty habit of jello salads at meals. The times we’ve eaten with them (which actually have not been many, due to living at significant distance and familial alienation, not necessarily in that order) I’ve had to avoid looking at the quivering mass across the table, and the dollops of it on my fellow diner’s plates. It gives me the creeps, probably because I was traumatized and scarred for life as a child by watching the movie “The Blob” (original version) on the Saturday night Creature Double Feature show. Yikes!

  6. Eeyore’s Unimpeachable Corn on the Cob Recipe

    1) Get the freshest ears of corn you can lay your mitts on

    2) Peel back the husk, remove silk (as much as possible), fold husk back in place

    3) Soak ears of corn in cold water (at least one hour, but more time is preferable)

    4) Wrap corn in aluminum foil

    5) Cook over grill or in the oven (375 deg F) for 30 minutes, turn once or twice

    6) Unwrap, remove husk (careful, it’s hot!) and devour with sinful amounts of butter and salt

  7. To avoid overcooking, put the peeled ears in a pot of cold water and set to boil. As soon as the water has boiled, drain the ears and eat them. Except not me, because I’ve been allergic to corn for over twenty years. That is sad, but it means I can get more of the tomatoes, green beans,melon, grilled eggplant . . .

    • Christiane says

      my father taught me to place the ears directly into boiling water and wait no longer than six minutes . . . out of the water, much REAL butter, salt, and feast!

      my father’s garden had six long rows of corn planted . . . each row planted a week after the first one, so that the ‘harvesting’ would last us over a month . . . it was ‘organic’, so the corn was not ‘picture perfect all of the time, but the FLAVOR . . . the freshness . . . so good . . . so good

      simple gifts

  8. Bluesurly says

    Just last week my son and I drove to Indiana from Iowa for Indiana Sprint Week. (car races) We marveled how the corn at no point in eight hours of driving ended. It all looked abundant and healthy with the warm weather and plenty of moisture this year. All this fresh food, and car racing, make the Midwest heaven!

    • Bluesurly says

      I should add that those races that are heavenly are done on dirt. Pure Midwest merican dirt. Not to be confused with asphalt or pavement which is used for getting there.

  9. MountainGal says

    While I like the fresh, healthy produce of summer (sparse in the mountains unless trucked in) to me the 3 most “splendid….appealing words” still remain: “Fresh packed powder” or “Lift chair open.” Sorry. Lol.

    • MountainGal, to this midwestern girl, those words produced some odd images in my mind at first. “She does black-powder shooting? She’s in a wheelchair? How tough.”

      OK, I got ya now. Lol.

  10. turnsalso says

    I was going to type something about how watermelon is clearly better than cantaloupe, but in all my years riding through rural Ohio with my parents and driving there on my own, I don’t think I’ve seen a single “Fresh watermelon” sign… Pity, that.

  11. Fresh ripe, juicy Georgia peaches sold by the side of the highway. Ummmm

  12. Christiane says

    A beloved memory:
    our great big French Canadian family gathering . . . memere and pepere and all the aunts and uncles and a thirty-or-so cousins in Auntie Lorraine’s backyard . . . the old victrola has been set up that played pepere’s beloved folk songs from Canada . . . there is a huge table with the first course mounded high: sweet corn, the best, fresh from McGintry’s stand in Aldenville MA (the one at the bottom of the hill) . . . the feast begins . . .

    then, with purposeful care, the corn cobs are placed all around the perimeter of the yard . . . ‘to draw the flies’ . . .

    it worked . . . it always worked 🙂

    Sitting there, looking out at beloved people filled with the good common sense and the joie de vivre to think of such a way of bug-free feasting . . . drinking Auntie Lorraine’s iced coffee (made with sweetened canned milk) . . . and carefully storing the scene in my mind for the time fifty years hence when all this would ‘go by’ . . . even the memory is a blessing to me, always a solid part of ‘who I am’

    today’s dinner plan:
    Corn stand down the road. They bring the haul from the fields every morning about 10:30 in the back of a truck’s attached wooden open trailer, and park it under their great oak tree . . . six ears for two dollars cash . . . I get 18 ears. . . some fresh tomatoes . . . a quick stop at the Mennonite dairy . . . simple celebration of life . . . good food, sun-filled family days, good memories

    • Christiane,

      Thank you for sharing this and for helping stir beloved memories of my own that are now a part of “who I am”, too.

  13. Chris Perry says

    Wrap each ear of corn in wax paper. Place in the microwave, and microwave in high for 1 + the number of ears minutes.

    For example: 4 ears are microwaved for 5 minutes.

    I’ve found the corn is more flavorful than boiling.

    • I wrap an ear in a damp paper towl and microwave it for a minute. Then another, then another, so they don’t have time to get cool in between. Of course, this is just for a single person; obviously CM’s way is the best for a crowd.

      I used to be able to eat six ears at one sitting, but I’ve tapered off in old age. There’s still nothing like it. And the season is so short!

  14. Another celebration of the wonders of human ingenuity and the absurdity of the hysteria over GMOs since 90% of the domestic corn produced has been genetically modified.

  15. Color me weird, but given the choice, which I rarely am, I much prefer to eat corn raw, just picked, standing in the garden next to the stalk, much like a raccoon. Even field corn tasted good that way, my youthful memory attests, tho now I realize it was actually pilfered, much like a raccoon. Wouldn’t want to eat today’s field corn, but the heritage and ancient garden varieties available today make up for that. Hope to start a garden again some day if I ever finish getting unpacked and settled. The other weird thing I do is eat greens, cooked or raw. Best kept health secret on the planet. My dogs like greens in their rice and lentils and veggies.

    • Amen Charles; I love raw sweet corn, great in salads too. I dio pop them into boiling water. For a few seconds, just ion case they were sprayed with DDT, lol. No butter or salt and the natural sweet flavor, crispy too, is heavenly.

  16. Another joyous feast from my east coast days – Chesapeake Bay crabs in Old Bay seasoning, corn on the cob, and ice cold beer.

    I think I might faint…

    • Never had that, but a high school family vacation to Cape Cod is a life highlight for me…such good seafood.

      Ever had a Quahog?

  17. David Cornwell says

    My dairy farmer son-in-law always tries a few rows of sweet corn. This year he and my daughter are out of town on vacation. So they told me to visit their corn mid-week to test it. It’s not quite at prime as yet, but expect it will be so tomorrow. Anticipating! The problem is coons. The little thieves strike almost every year just as our appetites have made us ready.

    I buy fresh produce during the gardening months (northeast Indiana) from a organic farm just a few miles from me (DeCamps Gardens). Yesterday I brought home the most delicious fresh tomatoes (which I’ve always rated right up there with corn). On August 9, after church, they will be sponsoring a the 2015 Tomato Tasting Event. Part of this is an offering of smoked chicken dinners and live music throughout the afternoon.

    I’ve noticed an increase of local desire and hunger for the freshness and taste that comes from locally produced food. Supermarket produce, while passable, has a certain blandness and lack of taste that comes from standardized mass production methods.

    And this morning, from Indiana, for breakfast very tasty cantaloupe..

    • David,

      I grew up on a dairy farm in southern Illinois. If you asked any of my family, there is sweet corn and then there is ILLINI SUPERSWEET corn. No contest.

      We also had an idiosyncratic way of buttering it, one that always astonished guests: You just lather up the “heel” of a loaf of bread, and then rub the corn-on-the-cob around with one hand as you cup the heel with the other. Then you just pass the heel of bread on to the next person. (No one actually eats the heel — except for the dachsund maybe.)

      Does anyone else “do corn” this way?

  18. Just got back from the farmer’s market, sat down to read my daily imonk. As a country boy from Alabama living in New York City, one of the pleasures of summer is farm fresh produce right in the middle of the big city. The taste of fresh sweet corn is, for me, indisputable proof of the goodness of God.

  19. Two thoughts come to mind. Longacre Farm in Pennsylvania where I worked as a camp counselor in the eighties. We pulled the cobs off in the field, shucked ’em and ate ’em right there and then. I never tasted anything sweeter. My second thought is of moving to Texas in 1990, stopping my car to pick an ear from a field next to the road and learning the difference between sweet corn and feed corn. Poor cows.

  20. Peace From The Fringes says

    A Jersey tomato, still warm from the garden. Must be eaten right out of hand, like an apple, while leaning over the sink. Hold the tomato in your right hand and a salt shaker in your left. Life can be very, very good.

    • Never understood the eating a tomato like an apple thing…this makes a bit more sense.

      I knew a girl…heavily homeschoooled, for context…who used to love eating raw potatoes. She’d just…grab and chew…

      Grandma does that with onions.

      Folks are odd.

  21. Dana Ames says

    As a young child in Montana in the days before produce was flown in from Mexico in the winter, any fresh produce was highly prized. Summer equaled bounty, bounty, bounty, especially if you could grow something in your backyard. My dad, who grew up in Kansas, liked to grow lettuce, radishes and green onions; the growing season was too short for corn. We always called it corn-on-the-cob – as distinct from the canned stuff we had to eat the rest of the year – and always just held it with the fingertips while eating. I never heard it called sweet corn until my father-in-law, who grew up in Iowa – at first I wondered what he was talking about! He used the bread heel technique for buttering as well. Husband’s family always used the pronged corn holders in either end of the cob while eating.

    Something in me is broken with regard to melons, all of them…. They look so refreshing, with all the wonderful colors – and there’s something about the melon-y-ness that just makes them impossible for me to even swallow. But PEACHES now…. The first spring after we bought our house, my husband asked for a peach tree, which we planted in our back yard. However, he is not allowed to touch it except to water it because he darnnear killed it with overzealous pruning one year. It’s “his” tree, but you know who puts all the work into it… We are rewarded with luscious small peaches, not so good for in-hand eating but they make some really terrific pies. They’re almost ready…


  22. Sweet corn is one of those things that I’m mostly giving up because I’m trying to limit carbs and lose weight.

    Can’t wait for tomatoes to be in season though, every year my dad and I make several huge batches of salsa using garden or farmers market produce. Tends to run from mild to hot (fyi, I ask for “thai spicy” so my hot is true hot, not Midwest ‘omg this ketchup is spicy’ hot), leave the seeds in, blend most, chop the rest, let age in fridge for a while, and eat throughout the winter if lucky.

    Trying a variation based on an experiment from last year: local cilantro, crushed and chopped and stirred in…not blended in like I did last year. Dark puke green salsa for weeks…tasty but weird.

    Also want to try making a black bean corn salsa this year, but we’ll see.

  23. Robert F says

    For some reason I’m feeling hungry.

  24. This has been a really fun day for me reading these comments.

    The church at which my wife directs the choir had its annual corn roast last weekend and served nearly 2000 people in 2 nights. The corn is fresh picked each day and served with a meal and homemade pies for dessert. It has been a community institution for decades.

    I may have to find a way to host an iMonk midsummer corn feast in the future. Damaris, we’ll take care of you too!

    • Rick Ro. says

      Not a single negative comment all day! All it takes is fresh sweet corn, I guess!

      iMonk midsummer corn fest…sounds great!

  25. My dad has had full dentures since I was a kid, and continues to amaze me to this day with his ability to neatly roll each row of corn kernels out of the cob, leaving perfect little holes. When I, holding ragged cob in hand, express my wonder, he always says, “It’s so easy! I don’t know why everyone can’t do it!” But nobody else can pick an ear of corn clean like my dad and his counterfeit pearly whites.

  26. Olathe, Colorado sweet corn. Accept no substitutes.

  27. Robert F says

    A local creamery here in south Central Pa is making sweet corn ice cream, using local corn, cream and milk, of course. Old Bay seasoning is available for those who want to add a piquant touch to their dessert.