Friday, July 18, 2014

Summer's Sweet Corn

When I think of my favorite summer food—sweet corn—I think of my dad’s mother, Clara.

Grandma told me, “You have to be careful about buying corn.  People will try to sell you field corn.  
That’s for cows.  What you want is sweet white corn with small kernels and brown strings on the husk.  
Those are the good ones.”

We sat together at my aunt Myrtle’s kitchen table, a wooden one made by my uncle and covered with a red gingham oilcloth. This was the first time I had ever been alone with Grandma. She had never talked much to me. My Dad had six brothers and sisters, and I had sixteen cousins, so there was always a crowd around when we were visiting from California. Besides I was eight and intimidated by Grandma’s somberness.

Grandma sipped from a small glass of elderberry wine as she talked with her lilting Minnesota accent. I sat with my glass of water and a freshly made donut from the plate on the table.  Her cheeks developed two red circles as she talked.  “The best corn comes right from the field. Stick it in a pot of boiling water, no salt, with a little sugar added and cook just for seven minutes. Pull it out and you don’t need to butter it at all.  Uffdah, that’s good.”

Grandma always wore a dress and shoes with ties. She had antimacassars on all her chair backs, crocheted tablecloths on her big dinner table, and some kind of crochet project along with a box of cherry-filled chocolates next to her favorite chair in the living room. She had been a widow for many years when I knew her and took in boarders to help maintain the house where she and Grandpa had raised seven children. We ate big meals at her house when we visited. Grandma made everything from scratch; including the lefse—thin potato pancakes spread with butter and jam—she served us as a treat. We were not encouraged to have snacks or bother her when she was busy, but she loved her sweets.  She stopped canning, cleaning and ironing at three o’clock and had a cup of coffee and a homemade cookie, maybe a sandbakle or a pepparkaker, with my family. She smiled at me that day in Myrtle's kitchen when she talked about the corn, and I grew a little fonder of her as she relaxed in her chair. 

Next to the window sat a Norwegian Tomten that Myrtle had made. The doll was about two feet high—just about the right size for a Tomten—with a tan corduroy body, embroidered eyes and eyebrows, a long nose, a red sleeping cap, a long white beard, slippers, and a green coat. In the Tomten’s hand was a small bag filled with candy. The outside said, “Free Sample from First Federal,” a typical thrifty reuse by my Aunt Myrtle. Grandma told me the story of the Tomtens, who were little people like gnomes, who lived in the barns in Norway.  They protected the farm, but would get cranky and play tricks if they were not well taken care of by the family.

Until that afternoon around the small table, I didn’t know her very well.  While we sat, I noticed that she had the same twinkling blue eyes as my dad.  I began to understand where our family’s dry wit came from as she told good tales just like her sons and daughters did.. The stories she passed on to me that summer day i have stayed with me just as much as the taste of tender sweet corn.

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