Updated: May 25
Québec corn season is the golden hour of summer, and time for the “Épluchette de blé d’Inde”!
The “épluchette de blé d’Inde” is an old Québec tradition that basically means a corn husking party. Sweet corn harvest is from mid-July to October but August is the peak time to buy fresh cobs grown in abundance all over the province. With the husk on, it’s sold by the half dozen, dozen or large pouches, and can be found at road stalls and urban farmers markets in most regions. Boiled and eaten on the cob, this makes an easy and affordable food to serve at outdoor dinner parties with a convivial buffet of barbecue dishes and salads. Guests and kids enjoys the husking, this is why it is called an épluchette (from the French word éplucher, which means peeling). Blé d’Inde (indian wheat) is the term that Europeans gave to corn when they discovered the American continent believing they were in India. The term is also still used by older generations but “maïs” is the proper word for corn, which sounds closer to maize, pronounced “mayeesse”. Indigenous farming, and what became an important production in the eastern part of Canada, is a long story written in many books. In Québec fields, there are many varieties grown and produced for different uses other than fresh food - like grains for animal feed, popcorn, ornaments and as flour for many types of products. The fresh favourite sweet corn varieties (that are sold at most markets of the regions I’m from) are the bicolour kernels, yellow and white, and they are just delicious.
Family time and corn on the cob in Québec • Photography © Bottle and Brush Studio 2019
So far, since I moved to Australia, my Québec visits only occur while it is winter here, so that means summer over there. It is amazing to re-discover some food traditions that I found quite ordinary in my previous life. Perception changes when the simple things we always knew before become rare and special. The last time I traveled to visit my family I really enjoyed taking some photographs featuring corn. I had a great time with my nephew husking the maize that my mum had just bought locally for our corn on the cob lunch at the cottage. It just felt like the old days! I also captured some market stalls surrounding the Montreal region and made some golden hour shots of the fields with my dad (who is a nature photographer). Corn has been farmed in Australia for both human and animal consumption for years but the domestic market remains smaller. I have rarely found sweet corn cobs in the summer farmers markets of our region but full yellow varieties are sold in supermarket all year long. They mostly come half cleared from husk, silk removed, wrapped in pack of 3 (in packaging for longer preservation I presume…). They are sometimes cut as “cobbettes”. Those are small pieces of cob cuts and served with a meat dish along with other steamed veggies in many pub style menus. Otherwise, corn kernels are used in many versatile ways and the corn fritters seem to be the most popular.
GROWING & COOKING TIPS
Corn is a multi-purpose wheat vegetable and there would be lot to say about it as it is produced around the world for many industries. I’ll just stay with the fresh vegetable aspect for this post. Corn on the cob can be simply boiled, steamed or grilled. The old fashioned French Canadian way that I know and love the best is boiling until kernels are tender (about 7 minutes). Once cooked, they are simply rubbed on a piece of butter and sprinkled with table salt at taste. People love them fresh when in season, at late summer. In colder seasons, corn kernels are mostly used from tins or frozen and they are one of the three essential ingredients of the traditional Québec shepherd’s pies. The Native American “Three Sisters” soup is made with corn, squash (or pumpkin) and beans. The concept of that name comes from the companion growing technique that the indigenous tribes have developed with those three crops for centuries. Grown together, each sister contributes beneficial support for each other. I have been trying to grow some varieties of corn in my backyard but the Australian summer droughts can be tough on heavy feeder plants... Space is another issue as maize is a tall plant that can reach 2.5 meters and best if grown in blocks. So nothing successful for garden sweet corn so far but I’m not giving up!
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