Monday, July 26, 2010

Nero Wolfe's Corn

My mother loved mysteries.
Especially murder mysteries.  I don't know why, specifically, but she loved to read (and re-read) her mystery books.  There were whole summers where I can only remember her sitting on the couch with two stacks of books nearby, one shrinking, one growing.  She loved to pick apart the mystery in her head as she read along.  My guess: she probably  knew who did it as soon as the author did.

She was a smart cookie :)

These weren't any mysteries either--she definitely had her favorite authors.  She loved the Judge Dee stories by Robert van Gulik.  She would check out the books-on-tape from the library and we would listen to them in the car on long drives.  Sometimes they were kind of intense for us kids, but they were still great stories.  And hey--they kept us quiet, mostly. 

I don't recall any books by Agatha Christie on her thickly populated paperback shelves, but I know she also loved the A&E Poirot series with David Suchet, and we would watch them while doing all sorts of things--Christmas baking, spring cleaning, painting, sewing, decorating for a party or baby shower or dinner.  Oftentimes, it would happen that those who hadn't seen the episode before, or hadn't seen it several times (i.e., most of us), would end up sitting down to watch the thing through while Momma worked.  It's hard to follow a detective story while doing something else if you don't know the ending, after all :) She didn't mind, I think.  Listening to the movies helped her work. 

Her other favorite detective was Nero Wolfe, an overweight eccentric who lives in mid-century Manhattan. With him in his 4-story brownstone live his cheeky, handsome, and rascally assistant, Archie Goodwin, a Swiss chef named Fritz ("Freetz"), an entire floor devoted to his orchids, and a full-time assistant orchid tender, Theodore.  Wolfe loves fabulous food, good beer, Iranian saffron, and great books, and hates onions, anchovies without heads, boiled corn, Spanish saffron, and women-in-general.  Eccentric is an understatement ;)

When I "got into" reading a bit more (sometime in high school), I decided to try one of her murder mystery books, just to see what it was like.  I picked Rex Stout's Some Buried Caesar.  For those of you who know Wolfe and Archie, Some Buried Caesar is the book where Archie meets Miss Lily Rowan :)  I was hooked. I love Stout's quick-moving writing style and the bits of himself that he cast into both Wolfe and Archie (mostly Archie).

As I read more and more books, I began to realize (to myself, of course) that Momma reminded me a lot of Nero Wolfe.  At least, she reminded me of him in some ways.  She hated onions, too, and she liked whole anchovies.  She didn't have a particular affinity to orchids, but she was very particular in other ways, and was never afraid to let you know exactly what she thought.  I miss her.

"But," you're thinking, "What does all this have to do with Wolfe's corn?"  And you are right to ask. I promise this post has a point.  A&E also made a series for the Wolfe mysteries and Momma and I both bought the full collection.  Just like Momma, when I need to get some good work done, I put on my mysteries to listen to as I putter around the house cleaning, cooking, tidying, and folding.  For some reason, they keep me on task.

In one of the episodes, centered around a delivery of not fresh summer corn, Wolfe rails against the evil of boiling corn on the cob in water on the stove.  While Inspector Cramer just wants to find the murderer, Wolfe goes on about the perfect way to prepare corn.

Here, then, is Wolfe's recipe as taken from the episode.  I have to admit, he's absolutely right.  This is the best way to prepare fresh summer corn on the cob:

"Boiled in water, sweet corn is.. edible, and nutritious.  But roasted in an oven, at the hottest possible temperature for 40 minutes. Shucked at the table. Buttered. Salted. Nothing else! Ambrosia."

Pretty simple, right? :)

First, though, I trim off all the corn-silk scragglies so they don't smoke up my oven too much (warning: your kitchen will smell like roasting corn husk).

I roast them at about 500 degrees, put 'em right on the rack, and set the timer for 40 minutes. That's it. No tending, no turning.  Just let them roast contentedly.

Unlike Wolfe, and probably because I just have a smaller dining space that he does, I don't shuck the corn at the table.  But I do shuck it in the kitchen, right before we all sit down to eat, and I let each diner butter and salt it for himself.

It's quite a treat, this summer corn thing :)


  1. delightful!

    anne, your photography is really becoming a thing of beauty. this post is right up there with and the photos really add so much. great work!

  2. Paul, that's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me! :) Those are two of my favorite food blogs--hands down! thanks :) and thanks for all your inspiration and support, too!

  3. Mmm...we will have to try this sometime! I wonder if Mike would like it...I'm sure as long as there is ample butter and salt, I don't see how he wouldn't :) And yes, the photography is looking great!

  4. Anne....thanks for the visit! Glad you like our "tails"!! I will have to try roasting corn...don't know why I never did before. Enjoyed your blog!

    Bee Haven Acres

  5. Thanks, Bev! I've been following your blog for a few years and LOVE your stories. My husband and I want a farm someday before too long :) You are an inspiration to us!

    The corn is the best if it's as freshly picked as possible :)

  6. SO GOOD. the way it smells up the kitchen is awesome too :) good memories with you!

  7. Ahh... My only comment is not about the corn, which is lovely. I started reading Nero Wolfe mysteries in grade school and still enjoy them as I retire. I never fell for the Nero doesn't like women idea. I think it was quite the opposite. Archie alluded to this several times. Sadly, no one but Rex Stout knows why, but I suspect Nero was seriously threatened physically & emotionally in his young adult days, quite possibly by his daughter's mother. His weight and attitude usually allowed him to avoid having his "safety" challenged. But, when a woman got to him, he still felt the call. Consider how he worked to make sure Phoebe Gunther's purposes were accomplished, even at the expense of his client and how long the murderer would be loose. There are other examples. But, I have probably babbled about this long enough.

  8. Yes, I have cooked my corn this way since reading Murder is Corny many, many years ago. If you are in a hurry the corn is eatable after twenty minutes.
    By the way, the quote is '...shucked at table." Not at THE table.

  9. My dad got me into mysteries, any good taste in mysteries I owe to him alone. So when he started watching this series I was hooked. And saddened when it ended. But I now have the DVDs which I watched so often while cleaning, mucking about the house and relaxing before bed I swear I could recite some of the lines word for word. Even have the cookbook. But was a bit worried on how to do the corn in Murder is Corny. Definitely going to try it now that I see it done.

  10. Another summer and another comment on Wolfe and roasted corn.
    Finding a copy of every book in the corpus has been a challenge. I have walked around with a piece of paper in my wallet with the list for the last five years. Ordering them online almost feels like cheating.
    Oh and the corn is outstanding