It wasn't that I never got out of the mountains of southeast Kentucky. I really did. I saw the ocean for the first time when my parents took my brother and me to Myrtle Beach in South Carolina when I was eleven. And I had been to Ohio to visit relatives, and to Tennessee when Dad took us to Norris Lake. We visited relatives in Louisville and Lexington, and of course Virginia was in my back door. It was so close it really didn't count, unless we traveled all the way across the state to Virginia Beach. Most of those places might not have had cornbread, but they always had vegetables, so there was always something for a picky eater like me to eat.
Sometime along the way, I learned to not embarrass my parents by asking for things that were not on the menu. Things like poke sallit never were. And I found that pawpaw pudding rarely appeared on a menu either. After a faux pas or two, I think I ordered enough grilled cheese sandwiches to feed a small army, otherwise I might have been left at home when they went on their next vacation. The very best thing I learned to eat from my ventures in the direction of the ocean was shrimp, and that was an accident.
I knew about pasta, and I liked it in either red or white sauce. When we went to Myrtle Beach, I saw they had pasta on the menu. I ordered it, not realizing it was served with shrimp. So the food came, and I chowed down, right into shrimp that I did not know was there. It tasted pretty good, and I thought it was only lumpy pasta. I told my mom they didn't know how to make pasta, because it was all clumped together. Mom said not a word. She knew very well that I would never eat anything that had eyes or talked to me. I cleaned my plate and vowed that was the best pasta I ever ate, even if it was all clumped together.
When we returned home, I asked Mom to make pasta like I'd had in Myrtle Beach, and without thinking, she said we didn't have any fresh shrimp to put in it. Oh my. I was mad as fire because they had tricked me, but Mom, much smarter than I gave her credit for, found a picture of headless shrimp and assured me that they neither talked nor did they have eyes to see me. Sometime later I learned the truth, but by then, I already liked shrimp.
Which brings me in my usual roundabout way to pickled corn. Pickled corn is a delicacy, and I could hardly wait every year for the corn to come in. Where I grew up we preserved a lot of foods by pickling. I was not very fond of pickles at the time; I much preferred cucumbers, but I loved pickled corn. Of course I love sauerkraut, too, but that's another story. We canned beans, and we pickled corn, and I always mixed the two together when I ate them, but eventually the corn won, and that became my favorite. I would eat it right out of the quart jar it was in, it was that good. Of course it helped that corn neither has eyes nor does it talk, but if it had, I might have eaten it anyway.
Wikipedia tells us that the United States is the top corn producer in the world, and if that is true, then surely there are more ways of using it besides fresh, canned, ground, or as hominy. So we pickled it. Trust me, there is nothing better.
My family pickled sweet corn, though I am sure other corn would work just as well, but Granny Ninna said only sweet corn would do and more times than not, she was right.. Some families pickled it right on the cob, but not mine. We boiled the corn till barely done, about 8 minutes, then cooled it quickly in ice water and cut it off the cob. That was my job, I was a great corn cutter.
We used a brine mixture of 1/2 cup pickling salt to 3 quarts of water. Then we placed the corn in clean, sterilized 1/2 gallon canning jars, or you may use a crock. Pour the brine solution over the corn, and place in a cool dark place, most of the time that place was in the cellar or in Dad's storage building depending on the weather. It takes about 3 or 4 weeks for the corn to pickle, and during that time it will bubble and 'work' just like a living thing. I was always fascinated by that process, and just knew something exciting was going on in those jars. At the end of the pickling process, the corn calms down, and no more action takes place, that's when you know all is well and the corn is ready to eat. If a film or mold has formed on top, just skim it off and rinse the corn. It does not have to be heated, and can be used like a relish. Still, I love it mixed with warm green beans and eaten with hot cornbread. Sugarless cornbread, of course.
By the time I was twelve, I could make pickled corn along with the best of them, and quite often it was my job. That could be because I was the one who ate most of it. I learned early on that it never appeared on the menu in restaurants, but that did not stop me from asking for it when I was in college. I begged, pleaded, and bribed, but nothing ever convinced those wonderful cooks in our cafeteria to make pickled corn. They surely did not know what they were missing. I don't even know how I ever survived all those years without it. I promise, it's that good.
Farmerdill provided all the photos in this article. They can be found in PlantFiles along with many other images he has given us. Thank you, Farmerdill!