My Twitter envy this week is directed at my friend Jilly’s sweetcorn crop. She posted some photographs of sun blessed golden cobs poking out of their vibrant green husks, grown in her polytunnel outside Lurgan.
When I was growing up, our family friend Davy used to grow corn in his greenhouse in Lisbellaw and it was such a treat. Davy had a wry sense of humour and told his children and my brother and me that he also grew rice in a paddy field in Ballinamallard. Fast forward to a lesson in primary school about where rice is grown. I got put in the corner for saying Ballinamallard in County Fermanagh.
The first time I saw corn growing was at the Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh on a primary school trip. The crop has always been a staple in North America, where it enjoys the benefits of summer sunshine. The sun is what makes the corn sweet. European corn, encased in its husk is available in shops now for a limited period. You can place the corn directly on the barbecue in its husk. Cook on both sides for about five minutes then open up and anoint with butter. Abernethy butter company in Dromara have just brought out a black garlic variety which goes beautifully on grilled corn (and most other things, too).
Corn and bacon have a natural affinity. Mervyn Kennedy produces a superb dry cured bacon at his farm in Omagh. He cures the bacon slowly and naturally as it should be. No white phosphates will ever come out of his bacon and it crisps up beautifully. He recently won two gold stars in the Great Taste Awards for his bacon joint and I cooked it last weekend at the Omagh Food Festival. The bacon was cooked in Long Meadow cider first and then topped with a Caribbean jerk paste – full of ginger, spices, lime, chilli and garlic. To cool it down I served it with a grilled corn and bacon salad. Historically we would have used cornmeal in Ireland.
Dried corn husks were sent over from America during the famine, to sustain us. It would have been made into an unappetising gruel at first but then in more prosperous times bread and soda farls would have been produced.
It was known as Indian meal, after the native American Indians who grew it, and you can still see “Indian Sodas” in various parts of Northern Ireland. I’ve included a recipe for the jerk spiced bacon, corn salad and a corn bread this week – all celebrating fresh and dried corn and the match with bacon.
I first ate cornbread in America in the late eighties and it was a complete revelation – deliciously light and flavoursome. Traditionally it would be cooked in an iron skillet rubbed with bacon fat.
Last weekend, Mervyn stockpiled his bacon fat for me and I used it to liberally grease a loaf tin – the flavour really came out in the finished loaf. You can buy cornmeal in health food shops, Asian supermarkets or some supermarkets.
The sun has disappeared temporarily but adding this lovely, golden hued vegetable will brighten up your day.