What was it Winston Churchill said? "America and England are two nations divided by a common language." I travel to England often and have found this to be true, but could not, until now, proffer concrete evidence. Here, in the form of an exchange of emails between my mother and Nigel Slater, is proof of the truth of Churchill's statement.
Dear Mr. Slater,
Corn grows in ears, not heads. I know the British have a penchant for calling it sweet corn. In the US, it is simply corn, but then we don't confuse corn with wheat. I am delighted to find your corn chowder and corn fritter recipes and equally delighted that corn is now available in the UK. Perhaps you could alert your readers to the idea that the sweetness of corn is due to its freshness. In summer, we Americans buy it the day it is picked to eat that very day. The next day corn's sugars begin to turn to starch and it is less flavorful (US spelling in this context). Modern varieties of corn are super sweet and keep their sweetness, but have less complex and distinctive flavors than the old varieties. Corn should always be sold in its husk. Why ever would someone shuck it and sell it on a plastic tray with plastic wrap? That's the equivalent of peeling a banana to sell on a styrofoam tray covered in plastic. Nature supplies perfect packaging for both.
Thank you for your email. I am perplexed and a little amused by your comment "now available in the UK." We have eaten what we call sweetcorn here for hundreds of years. It has been available in greengrocers and supermarkets since I was a boy. (I am now in my fifties.) I first wrote about it over twenty years ago. The point of my piece this week was to encourage people to eat their corn with the benefit of smoke, whether from the grill or with the inclusion of some smoked ingredient such as bacon or haddock. (Most people here tend to boil it.) Here though, we say heads, not ears. There is no reason for me to call them 'ears' as it is not the term we use here. That would be like me emailing an American writer and telling them not to use the term 'fava' beans because they are called 'broad' beans here. We just have different words for the same thing Barbara. We don't sell it ready-shucked in plastic wrap here. (I'm surprised, we seem to take any shortcut sometimes even if it means losing the flavour. I actually saw sliced courgettes (which you call zucchini) for sale the other day! Who, I wonder, could be too short of time to slice a zucchini?) Here, corn mostly comes fresh with the husk on. (Some of the cheaper supermarkets do sell it without.) I don't think I need to alert my readers about the fact that corn loses its sweetness from the moment of picking because it is something they would almost certainly know. Unfortunately, sweetcorn has been getting sweeter lately. over the last decade or so, we have been getting the Supersweet varieties which are like eating sweets (which I think you call candy). Sadly, they lack the true corn flavour so I tend to buy mine from the farmers market or the greengrocer, partly for the increased freshness and partly because it is easier to find the traditional varieties (which I think you call heirloom) as the big supermarkets tend to mostly stock the Supersweets. The good news is that I do feel there is a turn towards the older varieties again now, but that sort of progress (Funny how 'progress' means going backwards now!) can be quite slow. In ten years time I really hope I can say to you that we have delicious, complex flavoured (sweet)corn back everywhere, not just at the farmers market. But who knows?
Sincerely, and thank you for getting in touch.
P.S. The racy and beautiful Jennie Churchill, who was once described as having "more of the panther than of the woman in her look" and who would eventually become Winston's mum, was born at 197 Amity Street in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Despite being a Brooklyn girl, she is credited with the invention of the "Manhattan" cocktail.