Sweet corn season has Hamilton-area shoppers grinning ear to ear

·4 min read

Boiled? Steamed? Roasted? Grilled?

All satisfying options for cooking corn on the cob. But Brenda Snyder of Snyder’s Sweet Corn in Haldimand County prefers a quicker method.

“I love to eat my corn raw,” she said.

“Raw corn doesn’t hide anything. It’s very sweet, it’s refreshing. You can tell instantly if it’s old, underripe or overripe.”

Snyder’s tastebuds ought to know. She and her husband, Tom, harvest 80 acres of sweet corn every summer on their 166-acre family farm southeast of Caledonia. Quality control is key, meaning Snyder bites into raw cobs on the regular.

“I eat a lot of it because I’m checking it when I’m sorting,” she said. “It’s very easy to eat raw.”

In business since 1981, the Snyders only sell one corn variety, the alluringly named Gourmet Sweet Awesome.

“It’s not an early corn, but it is a very good corn for us, and it’s what our customers love,” Snyder said.

Well over 100 customers proved her point by lining up hours before the farmgate stand opened for the season on July 24.

“Saturday morning at 6:30 they were out there, and we don’t open till nine,” Snyder said of the “amazing” first day rush.

“We appreciate that they care that much about the quality they receive from us, and we take that very seriously.”

The crowd was a mix of locals, day-tripping tourists and devotees from further afield who developed a taste for Gourmet Sweet Awesome when Snyder’s used to stock farmers markets in Niagara and Kitchener-Waterloo.

These days, Snyder’s corn is only available at the source.

“Once they found out where we went, they did start driving to find us,” Snyder said of shoppers who make the trip from Hamilton, St. Jacobs and the GTA.

The “exceptional” demand for local produce prompted by COVID-19 has not slowed during this second pandemic summer, she added.

“Last year we saw a huge increase, as many farmers did,” Snyder said. “It was really hard to keep up, to the point that we were closed more than we were open.”

This year, crowds have been steady but not as overwhelming, save for “crazy” lineups each morning.

“They really want the corn, so they come earlier and earlier and line the roads,” Snyder said. “But if you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, you can walk right up to the tent.”

Farmer Tom Csoff from Gunther’s Sweet Farm in Norfolk County said buying local is “a huge draw” for his customers.

“To be able to go to the farm and buy it from the person who picked it, that’s a really cool connection, and I do believe customers like that and want that,” he said.

The sweet corn stand at Gunther’s — named after Tom’s late father — opened on July 19 and has been busy ever since.

“We’ve been selling out or close every day,” Csoff said. “The demand’s been awesome, support’s been awesome. People are doing their thing in terms of social distancing, masking.”

Csoff said most customers are local, but on weekends the farm sees an uptick in business from cottagers headed to nearby Port Rowan and Long Point.

Gunther and Helga Csoff were tobacco farmers who started growing sweet corn in 1990 “as an experiment” and opened the stand the next year, Tom Csoff explained. These days the family grows five varieties of sweet corn on 10 acres, part of a crop mix that includes asparagus, ginseng and squash.

On the cusp of her 66th birthday, Helga still picks corn by hand herself, spending a few hours each morning in the fields.

“My mom has picked 99.9 per cent of every cob we’ve sold in those 30 years,” Csoff said. “She is a hardworking lady, for sure.”

On the rare occasion Helga needs to leave for an appointment, one of the farm’s longtime migrant workers from Jamaica will fill in. The rest of the family helps with packing corn to ship to several local stores and a market stand in Caledon.

Csoff and his wife, Alicia, are raising three kids who enjoy sweet corn from their farm on a near-daily basis throughout the summer.

“We’re usually trying the variety ahead or the next pickings, just to make sure it’s close on flavour,” Csoff said.

“It’s just like asparagus — we eat it as often as we can, because you know there’s 10 months coming when you won’t have any.”

Snyder expects there to be corn available until around Labour Day, though she recommends customers check the farm’s social media pages to see if that day’s pick is sold out.

“Things in the corn can change quickly,” she said.

As for what to do with those cobs in the kitchen, Snyder sticks by her raw recommendation. But for less brave eaters, she suggests a “good, old-fashioned” three-minute boil, served without toppings to enhance the natural flavours.

“My family does the butter thing,” she said. “I like naked corn.”

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator

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