The day dawned hot and humid, as most July days on the Illinois prairie do. It seemed like the cornfields just trapped the heated air, making the plains a natural oven and each day hotter than the next. But as a kid, the heat didn’t bother me; I simply got up, threw on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, and headed outside.
This particular day was the day I looked forward to all summer—the day that was the most work, and yet the most fun day of the year. It was the day every kid in my family anticipated because we all knew the reward.
It was corn day.
Now, my dad’s normal crop was field corn—the stuff used for cattle feed and oil and other products—and he and my uncle grew acres and acres of that. But my friends from town just thought of corn as corn on the cob—the stuff they'd eat at picnics. I used to laugh at their ignorance behind their backs, not even bothering to try to set them straight on the differences.
Anyway, every year, my dad and uncle would set aside a few rows around the edge of one field to plant sweet corn—my favorite food in my whole childhood world. I’d watch the stalks begin to grow, and then the tassels start to form, and then the ears begin to take shape. Day after day I’d think about the day we’d finally be able to pick that sweet, delicious goodness.
Finally, on what seemed like the hottest day of the year, we’d get up early, throw on our oldest, cruddiest clothes, and head to the fields. The dads and the boys would take a pickup truck out to the patch of sweet corn and pick the corn, loading it into the back until it was nearly overflowing.
Meanwhile, the moms and the girls were setting huge pots of water on the stove to boil and preparing everything we’d need for freezing our bounty. We’d set out knives and cutting boards and special tools that only came out on corn day, including an old board with a blade attached to it which allowed you to quickly scrape the kernels of corn from the cob. When I was very young, we’d use old fashioned Tupperware to freeze the corn once it was cooked and cut off the cob, but once Ziploc bags were invented, we used those because they took up less room in the freezer.
Once the corn was picked, every child in our family was set to the task of peeling the corn. There was no way to count how many ears you’d peel on that day—it was surely in the hundreds. But heaven forbid you’d leave any silks on the ear! Silks were not allowed; the corn had to be clean.
So the day was hot and the work was hard, but I hardly noticed because (and here’s the reward) on corn day I could eat as much sweet corn as my stomach could hold. Mom would set out some butter and salt and we could eat to our heart’s content. No plates necessary—we’d just hold onto the cob and slurp away. I was literally in hog heaven!
It took the whole day to finish our job, and by bedtime I was tired. But I was filled with sweet, sticky goodness and happy memories of family times. As a child, there was nothing better.