If you live in the Midwest (and probably a few other places), you know the last couple weeks have been sweet corn harvest time. It’s the time of year when you’ll find pickup trucks loaded with sweet corn and parked at intersections or parking lots to sell and share. We all have our favorite recipes. Many prefer grilled corn. Others enjoy different types of seasoning. I actually prefer it off the cob.
But to be honest, sweet corn season isn’t as much about eating corn to me but preparing the corn. I grew up harvesting corn with my family. Mom or Dad did the majority of the picking, tossing hundreds of ears in the back of the pickup. Then we’d park it in the shade and start an assembly line of shucking.
Even after the three of us girls left the farm, Mom and Dad continued to harvest corn. They’d pick, shuck, and freeze as much as they thought they’d use through the coming year. It was a staple of our family gatherings. When I moved back to the area and my girls began to grow, I’d help when I could. That increased even more the last five or six years of my dad’s life. Perhaps it’s because I thought they might appreciate more help. Perhaps it was because I wanted to make more memories with them. And it had a little bit to do with me wanting corn for my own freezer without expecting anyone else to do the work. Since my dad died, I’ve made every effort to work with my mom to harvest enough corn for the year. Again, it might have a little to do with wanting to help her, but much of the desire simply has to do with adding more memories to tradition. (And the scrumptious taste of sweet corn in the middle of winter is a strong motivator, too.)
But harvesting corn isn’t convenient. Like much farming, it’s unpredictable. As the time approaches, we have a few indications that it might be done in the next week or two, but it’s not something we can put on the calendar and be assured a specific day will be the day corn is ready. It depends on the rain and the heat—and the insects and raccoons.
This year was an oddity. The first harvest day actually fell on a convenient weekend. But it wasn’t easy. It was the hottest day that week. And the decent ears weren’t easy to find. Many stalks had only one ear, and some had none. Many ears hadn’t developed well. Most were small. But I gathered what I could then, soaking wet, drove to the house.
We have a system. We gather chairs and a gardening cart and containers to shift the field corn to the shucked corn to the desilked corn. The person who shucks also looks each cob over for flaws and bugs. The person who desilks makes sure cobs are as clean as possible. This year, we widened that circle as more of my family joined. Despite the heat, we enjoyed chatting and remembering. Much of the time, I quietly sat and listened. I soaked up the time together.
Mom and I later wrapped up the finishing steps of cutting the corn off the cobs and bagging it for the freezer. We made one more harvest run a couple evenings later to waste as little corn as possible. We gave away some of the best ears. Our freezers are now full again. We’re ready.
It was exhausting, but I wouldn’t change it. Heat and lack of sleep for a couple days doesn’t compare to the sweetness of both corn and family memories.
All the memories we make with those we love don’t have to be fun, thrilling, or entertaining. Coming together to accomplish something together is satisfying. It helps us appreciate each other, because we’re willing to sacrifice time and comfort to get something done for ourselves and others.
It might not be sweet corn for you, but find ways to work and serve alongside each other in this season of life. As exhausting as the effort might be, you’ll find sweetness with it, too.