Preserving corn is a good way to extend summer into fall and winter. Canning and freezing are two popular methods, especially for today’s sweet corn varieties. But there are several other good ways to capture the essence of the corn. Pickled corn is a bright salad-like relish that can be enjoyed with many meals. Salting and drying are other good methods. Each of these food preservation methods for corn are detailed below.
How to prepare corn for preserving. Grasp and pull husks and silky fibers from ears of corn; scrub ear gently with a vegetable brush to remove all fibers. If freezing or drying, blanch ears of corn as described in the next paragraph. To cut corn kernels from the cob neatly and easily, stand an ear on end in the center of a Bundt pan and slice down the side with a chef’s knife. The kernels will fall neatly into the pan.
How to blanch corn before freezing or drying. Blanching, or partial cooking, helps vegetables stay fresh longer when they are frozen or dried. Without blanching, enzymes that are naturally present remain active and the food continues to ripen and may spoil. Blanch husked ears by plunging into boiling, unsalted water for 7 minutes if ears are under 1-1/2 inches in diameter, for 9 minutes if up to 2 inches, and larger ears for 11 minutes. Cool ears in ice water and then drain well before cutting kernels from cob. Alternatively, you may grill corn (preferably without oil or seasonings), cool it, and cut the kernels from the cob. Roasted corn is excellent when frozen or dried.
Freezing corn. Best for any variety, fully mature corn. Prepare corn, blanch ears, and then cut the kernels from the cob. Pack cold corn in freezer-safe packaging and place in freezer. Freeze vegetables up to twelve months. While it is possible to freeze whole cobs with the kernels still attached, the results can be variable and often disappointing.
Drying corn kernels. Best for any variety, fully mature corn. Prepare corn, blanch ears, and then cut the kernels from the cob. Place kernels on drying trays. Preheat an oven or food dehydrator to 130 degrees F to 140 degrees F. Dry corn kernels for 6-12 hours, or until brittle. Cool until no longer warm and then transfer in an airtight container. Stored dried foods in a cool, dry place. Check dried foods every couple of month for spoilage, usually mold if they were not fully dried. Storage life depends on conditions where you live. Dried foods can only be kept for 1-2 months in humid climates, and longer in drier climates. Dried foods often last only until the weather turns warm again.
Drying corn cobs: After removing kernels, cut cobs into one-inch lengths. Dry as for corn kernels until brittle. Use dry corn cobs as fire starters for your barbecue or camp fire. Dried corn cobs are also excellent for smoking delicately flavored foods such as fish, chicken, and mild cheese.
Canning plain vegetables. For canning any plan vegetable except tomatoes, you must use a pressure canner. If you don’t have a pressure canner, read below for instructions on pickled corn for canning in a boiling water bath canner. For all green vegetables I prefer freezing or drying. However, the appearance and flavor of many other vegetables holds up very well to canning, including corn, carrots, beets, dried beans, commercially grown mushrooms, peppers, potatoes, and cubed winter squash.
Canning corn kernels. Best for slightly immature or barely mature corn. Sweet varieties of corn or immature kernels may turn brown after canning or during storage, although it is safe to eat. Process one jar and check the color and flavor before canning a large quantity. Estimate 4-1/2 pounds corn per quart. Select ears with fully mature kernels. Blanching is not necessary. Remove husks and cut whole kernels from cob, cutting only about 3⁄4 the depth of kernel. Do cut deeper or scrape cob; it adds starch to the jar and may make canned corn unsafe. If desired, add 1 teaspoon salt to each quart jar before filling with corn.
For more information about canning, read this Tip Sheet for Home Food Canning. For pressure canning corn kernels, hot pack, add raw corn kernels to boiling water and cook 5 minutes, and then keep hot while filling jars. Add hot corn and hot cooking liquid to 1-inch headspace. For pressure canning corn kernels, raw pack, add raw corn kernels and boiling water to 1-inch headspace. Process canned corn in a dial gauge pressure canner at 11 pounds or weighted gauge at 10 pounds; pints for 55 minutes and quarts for 85 minutes (at 0 to 1,000 feet).
Canning pickled corn. Best for any variety, slightly immature or barely mature corn. Pickling makes it possible to can vegetables using a boiling water bath canner. Be sure to use tested canning recipes, such as this pickled corn relish. Use this corn relish throughout winter as a garnish for tacos, burgers, or hot dogs. Toss it with cabbage or mixed greens for a quick and tasty salad. Or simply serve as an accompaniment to roasted and grilled meats. The sunny color of pickled corn relish really brightens winter meals.
Salting corn kernels. Dry salting is an easy and old-fashioned pickling method for preserving vegetables. Best for fully mature corn, very fresh corn. Standard “old-fashioned” field corn (dent or flint types) is a better choice for this preserving method than more modern sweet varieties.
To make just one quart, sterilize a one-quart canning jar, or use a large crock for larger batches. For each quart, plan on using about 8 medium ears. Prepare corn, blanch ears, and then cut the kernels from the cob, cutting only about 3⁄4 the depth of kernel. Do cut deeper or scrape cob, which can add sugars that interfere with the salting process. Weigh corn kernels and measure 3.2 ounces (1/3 cup) pickling or fine-grained kosher salt for every pound of corn. Do not use table, sea, or iodized salt, which contain additives that can adversely affect the product.
In a large bowl, toss corn kernels with salt until evenly mixed. Pack corn and salt into the sterilized jar or crock. In a one-quart jar, leave 1 to 2 inches headspace; in larger crocks, leave 4-5 inches headspace.
Cover vegetables with plastic wrap, cheesecloth, or a cabbage leaf, pressing this cover onto the surface of the food without trapping air underneath. Add a weight on top of the cover to prevent vegetables from floating and exposing them to air. Suitable weights include a plastic bag filled with 20 percent brine (recipe follows) or water-filled jar. In a large crock, use a large plate with an additional weigh on top.
Set aside in a cool, dark place. In 24 hours, if the juices do not cover the food completely by at least an inch, prepare a 20 percent brine using 7.7 ounces (3⁄4 cup) pickling salt per quart of water. Add enough brine to cover the corn generously. Cover and weight again to keep solids submerged. Cure (pickle) the vegetables for 2-4 weeks, and then store in a cold cellar (<50 degrees F) or refrigerator (<40 degrees F) up to 6 months. Check twice weekly for scum and remove immediately if present. If vegetables mold or become mushy, discard without tasting.
Preserving corn is a good way to enjoy a little bit of summer long after the growing season. Plan to preserve some corn by any of several methods that work well for corn: canning, freezing, drying, pickling, and salting.
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