Monthly Archives: June 2015

Corn from Oaxaca

Historically, all corn is from Oaxaca, a southern state in Mexico. That’s the region where corn/maize first arose, before spreading through the Americas. However, while I was in Oaxaca, learning more about how and when this remarkable grain first arose, I discovered a local application for sweet corn that became a minor addiction.

In Mexico, sweet corn, often still on the cob, is called elote, while the word maíz refers to the type of corn dried for grinding. In the city of Oaxaca, the place I most commonly saw the word elote (or, sometimes, elote exquisto) was on the sides of carts belonging to street vendors who were selling corn on the cob. Near the center of town, these vendors were common, and each one would have his own little spin on how he prepared the elote—but they all had the same basic ingredients. They would pull several fresh, hot ears of sweet corn out of their steamers and let me pick the one I liked best. They would poke a short wooden handle in the end of the cob I’d chosen, and then they would set to work, preparing what became my favorite light meal while I was there. The ingredients may surprise you, but this is absolutely wonderful. Enjoy.

Elote
Mexican Corn on the Cob

Fresh, sweet corn on the cob, cooked and hot
Mayonnaise
Sharp, crumbly cheese, shredded or grated (cotija would be the cheese used in Mexico, but if you can’t get it, Parmesan works well)
Chile powder
Lime wedge (optional)
Salt to taste

You’ll need to figure out the handle issue before you get started. In Mexico, the handles are made of short pieces of wood cut to suit, but a blunt knife or maybe a fork could be stuck in the end of the corn cob if you don’t have a piece of wood. (You do need a handle for this. If you don’t have any other way of doing it, you could trim the pointy end of the corn so that you could use those little “corn holders” they sell for eating corn on the cob. However, it’s unlikely those would work if you only had them stuck in one end. So definitely figure this out before you start.) Alternatively, I’ve been to one Latino restaurant where they cut the corn off the cob and just mix the other ingredients into the corn kernels, thus eliminating the need for a handle. You lose the fun of eating corn off the cob, but it is much tidier and still delicious.

Spread a layer of mayonnaise—enough to coat—over the hot corn, then roll the corn in the cheese or sprinkle the cheese over the corn while turning it. (My favorite vendors would always put the corn down in the cheese and heap it on top, to make sure the ear got well coated, then they’d let the excess fall off.) Then sprinkle with chile powder and salt to taste (though you may not need salt, as the mayo and cheese are salty — so try it first). A few vendors finished this off with a squeeze of lime, which is a nice, fresh touch, but I didn’t find that this appreciably altered my enjoyment of the dish, and it can make it drippy, and thus messier to eat.

Enjoy.

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Filed under Corn, Culture, Food, History, Language, Recipe, Travel

The Little Popcorn Shop

My interest in corn extends to all forms of corn: field corn, sweet corn, and, of course, popcorn. In my book, there is a more detailed history of popcorn (which was actually the first kind of corn to evolve but the last to reach us in North America), but I also enjoy some of the whimsical aspects of popcorn. For example, the Little Popcorn Shop in Wheaton, IL.

The Little Popcorn Shop began selling popcorn in 1921. It has, in the nearly 100 years since it opened, become a Chicagoland icon. The shop was once merely an alley between two older buildings, until a gentleman named E. Claire Brown decided that it was the perfect location for selling popcorn and candy. The alley, which was only 49 inches wide but 60 feet long, was roofed over and named the In-Between Shop. The shop changed hands, as well as its name, when Brown died, but the Little Popcorn Shop still focuses on buttered popcorn (freshly popped throughout the day) and old-fashioned, dime-store candy. It is also still only 49 inches wide. Fans are numerous and faithful, and delighted that the shop hasn’t changed.

It’s easy to see how the shop got it’s first name—the In-Between Shop. WhLittlePopShop-2-B

In this long view of the narrow store, you can see the racks of old-fashioned candy and, at the back, the shop’s owner Bill Wakefield, who is, as usual, popping up fresh, fluffy popcorn in the store’s old poppers. Little-Popcorn-Shop-longvie

You don’t have to wonder what size bag you’ll get when you’re ordering.

LittlePopcorn-bags-prices-B

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Filed under Corn, Culture, Food, History, Midwest, Travel