Last night for dinner, I had corn on the cob. That’s it. Just corn on the cob.
Six lovely, buttery, salty, peppery pieces of corn, of which I ate four. There was nothing else on the plate. No burgers or hot dogs. Nothing from the grill. Just corn.
That’s how I’ve almost always eaten corn. In the summer, my family would sit down to the occasional dinner of corn on the cob. The four of us would go through a dozen ears (or was it 18?). There wasn’t anything fancy about it. Husk the corn, boil it, season it, eat it. Repeat steps 3 and 4 as needed. Ears ready to be denuded would wait their turn under a tent of foil. Gnawed-at cobs would take their places on the sides of our plates or on a trash plate.
Corn on the cob as a complete meal is so ingrained in my head that I don’t order combination dinners at restaurants if the side is an ear of corn. My family used to spend a week every summer in Bethany Beach or Rehoboth. Every year, we’d go to Paul Revere’s Smorgasbord in Ocean City. As you could guess from the name, it had a New England clam bake feel to it. I don’t know if my mom and sister liked it, but I did and I think my dad did. I do know that none of us (to the best of my memory) ate the bright yellow half-ears.
Outsiders would occasionally join us at the house for a corn dinner. They might ask what else was for dinner, only to be told, “this is it,” in a tone that clearly said, “what strange planet do you come from where you need something else besides corn?”
When I’m at someone’s house over the summer and corn on the cob pops up as a side dish, I usually turn it down. It just doesn’t feel right to fit it on a plate with other food. Where do you put the cobs when you’re done? How do you prevent the buttersaltpepper sludge from contaminating the burger or whatever?
I was brave, though, a couple weeks ago at a friend’s house. There were hot dogs, burgers, crab legs … and corn. I was hungry for corn, but resisted, eating other stuff. And then I broke down. I had an ear of corn. There wasn’t anything on my plate so it was more or less okay. The corn tasted good, but it didn’t feel right. I may have had another crab leg after the corn, but I was done. Eating that piece of corn as a side dish (!) was just unnatural. My brain shut down, perhaps rationalizing that enough time had passed between the first part of hot dog and crab and the second of corn that the ear had been its own meal. But it wasn’t happy about moving on to eat other things. Neurons said corn had been eaten out of its natural place in the universe and eating was, therefore, done.
There’ll be other corn dinners for me this summer. And, rest assured, there won’t be any other food on the menu.