Many people who are stuck in the midwinter doldrums dream of garden-ripe tomatoes and juicy, blushing peaches, but I dream of corn. Sweet corn, when it finally arrives in July, feels like summer’s reward for surviving winter’s chill. At my favorite farmstand, the corn you buy at 10 a.m. was still on the stalk at 6 that morning, and it’s so sweet and juicy, it needs neither butter nor salt to make you swoon. I buy my ears a baker’s dozen at a time, steam them, and eat them hot with meals and cold as a perfect midday pick-me-up snack. I cut the kernels off the cob and sauté them in browned butter or puree them into velvety soup. I make stock from the cobs for potato corn chowder or soak them in water for a mild and weirdly refreshing beverage.
But when there’s no sweet corn in season, I turn to Cope’s dried corn. I know many people reach for a can or a bag of frozen niblets, but I find that the texture of frozen corn is seriously compromised, and canned corn will always have that tinny backnote of flavor. Drying sweet corn comes from a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition: farmers took the same sweet eating corn they enjoyed and simply dried it out. Cope’s is a brand you can source easily online, and since it’s a dried packaged product, you can stock up.
There are two ways to use dried corn. You can soak it to rehydrate the kernels, or you can blitz it in your food processor while it is still dry to make a coarse powder that you can turn into everything from a breakfast porridge to cornbread. Chef Andy Little from Josephine in Nashville makes his own Cope’s-style corn in summer and then bakes the most spectacular cornbread with it all year long.
I love the texture of Cope’s, which is a pleasure all its own. Pleasantly chewy and a bit toothsome, it feels heartier than fresh sweet corn, but it also tends to be less crunchy when processed, so cornbread made with it is a bit lighter in texture. It will never have the pop and snap of a fresh kernel, so I don’t recommend it as a direct substitute. But for soul-soothing creamy or baked dishes, it’s a treat. One package of Cope’s will be enough corn to feed two or three people as a side dish.
For a basic stewed-style corn, just add about 2 cups of whole milk to a package of dried corn, and let it sit in the fridge for at least four hours or overnight. In a saucepan, sauté some onions or shallots in butter till they’re translucent, then pour in the corn and milk mixture and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until the corn is tender and the sauce has reduced. Season to taste with salt and ground white pepper and stir in some chopped parsley or chives if you are of a mind. If you want some bonus richness, toss in another knob of butter or a handful of shredded cheddar or grated parm. Serve hot. If you have leftovers, bake them with eggs shakshuka-style in the morning.
For cornbread, I blitz a package of Cope’s in my food processor to a reasonably fine grain, and then swap it in for half to two thirds of the cornmeal in my favorite cornbread recipe. Any leftover ground Cope’s I cook with milk and a touch of sugar for a breakfast hot cereal. And corn pudding is a terrific entertaining or potluck dish all winter long.
4 packages Cope’s dried corn
4 cups whole milk or half and half
1 cup sour cream
5 Tbsp. melted butter
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
4 large eggs, beaten
Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish with butter or nonstick spray.
In a food processor, blitz the Cope’s corn to a coarse meal that still has some larger pieces. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the milk, sour cream, butter, salt, sugar, and eggs. Pour into the prepared baking dish and let sit at room temperature for 30-60 minutes. While the batter is resting, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the center does not look liquid when you shake the pan. Serve hot.