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Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Pocketful of Corn…

community corn patch Yesterday as Gladys and I passed the Werkhoven Dairy, I saw Jim Werkhoven exit the milkhouse and stride toward some farm machinery parked nearby. Gladys gave Jim a feminine ting-a-ling, but her greeting was muffled by machinery noise and we glided by unnoticed. I heard Big Jim on the radio again the other day, the ad the Werkhovens do for the Washington State Dairy Commission and it always seems a bit strange to see the Werkhovens in person and later hear their voices coming from the radio speaker.

“You know, we try to be good neighbors,” Jim’s gruff voice booms over the airwaves. I think about all that good organic by-product I’ve been granted from the Werkhovens’ Dairy (they’ll even load it for you if they’re around). Friends of ours, those Rollers, wanted to pump up their pumpkin patch this spring. I told them to contact the Werkhovens. Sure enough, the Rollers came away with two pickup loads of digester effluence. “It’s the least we can do for you,” Jim told Darren, “after all the ****you’ve had to put up with from us all these years.”

I sat down with Jim last January to talk about the farming business, the dairy industry in particular. One subject that came up was the communal patch of corn that’s been a tradition with the Werkhovens for years (a part of their“…trying to be good neighbors”policy). Last year the patch was bare—in part because of the long, cool spring—but also because Jim, Andy and Steve were disheartened by some corn patch visitors who discovered the corn and took advantage of  the free produce. “I’d see fancy cars out there…one guy in a BMW,” Jim exclaimed, implying, “I’m sure, if you can afford a BMW, purchasing a few ears of corn shouldn’t be a problem.” Jim remarked about a van that stopped at the patch and the driver proceeded to load the vehicle with corn. “Now I know that guy couldn’t eat a whole van full of corn himself! He had to be selling it somewhere!” A sad fact, if true…which it most likely was. “Free” anything triggers something in our brains (unless, that is,  it’s a free used mattress) and perhaps because the situation arises so seldom, we tend to take advantage of it and often to excess. (Consider my last post and the dozen “free” apples from Hood River.) The “neighborly” intent of the communal corn patch was to provide a few ears for a family’s supper, share some of the Valley’s sweet corn with the locals and Valley visitors, enough for a meal or two--certainly not to provide a corn bake for a “city” block part or a sales booth at some farmers’ market. Jim just didn’t know if he wanted to continue the gesture.

And that’s why I smiled last spring when I saw new corn sprouting in the tilled ground, and I smiled again last week when I pedaled past  the communal patch and noted a hand painted sign propped against a metal box by the corner of the field: “CORN IS READY.”Free pickin's I parked Gladys alongside the patch and strolled into the field to examine the crop. A half dozen rows into the patch yielded two nice, plump ears. I removed the husks, left the sheaves for compost, and pocketed my loot. Now I must confess I have two rows of corn in the backyard garden, Golden Jubilee, and the ears are ripe for the picking. Why, then, you may ask, did I take two extra from the Werkhoven communal patch?  Because I appreciated the gesture in which it was offered. Because I could. And because the corn was free. Two ears. That’s all I took. Just enough for one recipe of little corn dumplings, enough for one evening’s meal. Two ears for one batch and no more.

                              Little Corn Dumplings

1/2 cup flour

2 Tbsp cornstarch

1 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1 egg

1/3 cup ice water

2 ears sweet corn, husked, kernels removed (1-1/2 cups)

6 Tbsp vegetable oil for cooking the dumplings

1. Mix the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and half the salt together in a bowl. Add the egg and 1/4 of the water, and mix with whisk until smooth. Add the remainder of the water, and again mix until smooth. Fold in corn kernels.

2. Heat 3 Tbsp of oil in a large skillet, and drop one Tbsp batter for each dumpling. Cook for three/four minutes per dumpling per side and transfer to wire rack when they are cooked.

3. Sprinkle the dumplings with the remaining salt and serve immediately. (Alternately prepare a few hours in advance and reheat on wire rack set over a cookie sheet in a 175 degree oven for 10-15 minutes.)

Note: Leftovers can be frozen and reheated at a later date—or we like them refrigerated and eaten cold.

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