Good Golden Ban­tam taste is in the sweet corn genes

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LIFE - By Lee Reich Visit http://www.leere­ich.com/blog

The taste of sweet corn in the mar­ket has, to many palates, got­ten bet­ter and bet­ter over the years. The taste of sweet corn that I grow is the same ev­ery year.

Still, my taste buds tell me that my corn tastes best.

It’s not from hav­ing a green thumb or a site par­tic­u­larly con­ge­nial to sweet corn; it’s all in the sweet corn’s genes.

Those good genes re­side in the va­ri­ety Golden Ban­tam, which de­buted in 1902 and is, as far as I’m con­cerned, the tasti­est corn there is. Seven­ty­five years ago, just about ev­ery­one would have agreed with me. When E.L. Coy sent the Burpee Seed Com­pany those first 2 quarts of Golden Ban­tam seed, he also sent along a note that read, “You now have the very sweet­est and rich­est corn ever known.”

HIS­TOR­I­CAL AC­CLAIM FOR GOLDEN BAN­TAM

U.P. Hedrick wrote in “The Corns of New York” (1934) that Golden Ban­tam “has been for sev­eral years the most pop­u­lar sweet corn for all pur­poses. The name has been so thor­oughly im­preg­nated in the minds of grow­ers and con­sumers that many of them will not ac­cept any­thing else.”

Golden Ban­tam erased a pre­vail­ing prej­u­dice against yel­low corns, which had been associated with live­stock feeds.

De­spite present and past rave reviews, Golden Ban­tam corn is nei­ther as sweet nor as ten­der as what you’ll pick up these days off mar­ket shelves or at farm­ers’ mar­kets. What Golden Ban­tam has go­ing for it is fla­vor; each chewy ker­nel is packed with sweet, rich, old-fash­ioned corn fla­vor.

WHAT MAKES SWEET CORN SWEET

Sweet corns first ap­peared in a seed cat­a­log in 1828, and for decades there­after the goal was to eke out the most sweet­ness by de­vel­op­ing bet­ter va­ri­eties and short­en­ing the time be­tween har­vest and eat­ing.

Golden Ban­tam and other tra­di­tional sweet corn va­ri­eties owe their sweet­ness to a sin­gle recessive gene known as sug­ary-1. The main draw­back of this gene, as far as farm­ers were con­cerned, was that the ker­nels rapidly lost sugar as soon as the ear was picked. (That’s not an is­sue for home gar­den­ers, who can drop ears into boil­ing wa­ter a few min­utes af­ter they are har­vested.)

That goal of the sweet­est sweet corn was per­haps too fully re­al­ized with the dis­cov­ery about 50 years ago of the so-called shrunken-2 gene of sweet corn. (Dried seeds with this gene are very shrunken and wrin­kled.) This recessive gene im­parts an enor­mous amount of sweet­ness to corn, and har­vested ker­nels hold their sweet­ness for days. The main draw­back of this gene is that the ker­nels have some­what tough skins. Also, shrunken-2 plant­ings must be iso­lated from sug­ary-1 plant­ings, or the corns cross-pol­li­nate and nei­ther plant­ing yields a corn that is sweet at all.

En­ter the sug­ary-en­hanced gene, dis­cov­ered in the 1960s. It works in con­cert with the old sug­ary-1 gene. Sug­ary-en­hanced gene corn holds its sweet­ness for days af­ter pick­ing, has ten­der — some say creamy — ker­nels, and does not need iso­la­tion from pure sug­ary-1 corns.

WHAT TO PLANT

It’s all a mat­ter of taste: If you want the sweet­est of all corns, with a crack­ing tex­ture, grow a shrunken-2 su­per­sweet. If you want some­thing less sweet but with good tex­ture, grow a sug­ary-en­hanced corn.

If your taste buds cry out for the rich­est corn fla­vor and you feel that to­day’s su­per sweet corns are just too sweet, things are not as sim­ple as just grow­ing Golden Ban­tam. Those 2 quarts of seed that Burpee re­ceived in 1902 were open­pol­li­nated Golden Ban­tam, mean­ing that the seeds had been and could be saved for gen­er­a­tions.

But Golden Ban­tam was so good that it sired other “Golden Ban­tam” va­ri­eties, such as Ex­tra Early Golden Ban­tam, an­other open-pol­li­nated va­ri­ety. Soon af­ter hy­brid corn en­tered the gar­den and farm scene in the 1920s, the hy­brid va­ri­ety Golden Cross Ban­tam was also de­vel­oped. Be­sides other qual­i­ties, it had larger ears.

For­tu­nately, Early Golden Ban­tam, Ex­tra Early Golden Ban­tam and Golden Cross Ban­tam, as well as the orig­i­nal Golden Ban­tam it­self, are all still avail­able to­day. They’re all good, but none beats the orig­i­nal.

LEE REICH VIA AP

This un­dated photo shows a bas­ket of Golden Ban­tam corn grown and har­vested in New Paltz, N.Y. Golden Ban­tam is an old-fash­ioned va­ri­ety of sweet corn that, though less sweet than mod­ern hy­brid va­ri­eties, has a richer, cornier fla­vor.

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