Tag Archives: sweetcorn

guy’s newsletter: awash with vegetables & smutty corn

We are awash with vegetables; I can hardly remember being surrounded by such bounty and quality in the fields, barns and boxes. We’ve wonderful cos lettuce that Mr McGregor could only have dreamed of, great tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers from the tunnels, the sweetest carrots, sound onions and tasty charlotte potatoes. It has been a near perfect season so far and confidence is returning in the fields, almost enough to make me want to plant more soft fruit; but the memories of the 2012 deluge have not quite faded.

There was a growing drought worry with levels dropping in our irrigation reservoirs and soil moisture near exhausted, but over the last few days we have had over an inch of rain with more forecast this week; just what all those young cauliflowers, leeks, cabbages and broccoli need to help get their roots to the moisture deeper in the soil. With days already drawing in and dews getting heavier, I reckon we are safe. The rain has even drowned most of the flea beetles that have been plaguing us all summer. Without wishing to court disaster, it has been a near perfect year to be a veg grower. All we need now is for you to eat more.

Further south, on our French farm, up to half the early sweetcorn has developed the fungal galls of corn smut, as described last week. It is also known as ‘corn truffle’ or ‘huitlacoche’ in Mexico, where it is considered a delicacy and is sought-after to fill quesadillas. After much research and experimentation including an evening cooking with a chef from Wahaca, I reckon the more adventurous among you might like to give it a go. It is hard to describe the flavour of the spore-filled galls as they are unique; they cook down to a black paste reminiscent of squid ink, and have an earthy bitterness which I love. Great with refried beans, guacamole, tomatillo salsa and corn tortillas. As I write, we are working out a huitlacoche meal kit and recipes which should also be on the website over the next two or three weeks. All being well, you might be able to eat Riverford huitlacoche at Wahaca restaurants this autumn too.

Guy Watson

guy’s newsletter: smut & wacky veg from the vendée


I am on our farm in France, where we are picking the best crop of sweetcorn I have ever grown; 30,000 cobs to the hectare which are so plump and sweet you can eat them raw. Walking through the crop, my spirits rose to giddy heights until I reached the field next door, where 70% of the cobs are grotesquely deformed with galls of the soil-borne fungal pathogen, smut.

guy corn smut landscape

Guy with sweetcorn affected by ‘corn smut’ or huitlacoche as it is known in Mexico (where they consider it a delicacy).

With the majority of crops from this farm designed to plug the spring ‘hungry gap’ back home, our busiest time here is past and we have sown green manures to replenish the soil, ready for next year. The fertility building mixture of clover, oats and phacelia has germinated well but ironically so has a flush of exceedingly healthy summer purslane; a succulent weed I have previously cultivated as a salad crop in the UK, with mixed success. Meanwhile we will start hand picking our beautiful red-flecked borlotti beans next week. Harvested immature in the pods as ‘demi-sec’, they require much less cooking and retain more flavour than a dried bean and can be used in stews, but are best appreciated in a salad. Don’t be put off if the pods look tatty, the beans are beautiful inside, as many an Italian will tell you.

Since buying the farm here I have developed a passion for growing, eating, bottling and drying chillies; like our sweetcorn they love the dry heat of a Vendéen summer. We have grown different varieties for tapas, stuffing, drying and pickling which include padrons, pablanos, Joe’s long, jalapenos, plus a few devastatingly hot scotch bonnets and habaneros for the deranged chilli nuts among you. Most will be available (along with instructions for preserving) to add to your order over the next two months. We are also busy picking tomatillos for you to make salsa verde, and starting on the cape gooseberries. A few of you might think this sounds all too esoteric and are wondering where the potatoes and carrots are; just count yourself lucky there is no smutty corn in your box.

corn smut close up

In Mexico it is considered a delicacy and they charge more for it. Maybe we need to develop a recipe for smut galls with summer purslane.

Guy Watson

guy’s weekly newsletter: thunder in the vendée

After the hottest weather since 1976, it’s now pouring and the relief is palpable as the thirsty soil sucks in the welcome rain. We have a huge lake that fills up through the winter here on our farm in France, and we’ve been busy pumping, piping and spraying from it this summer. Giant hose reels pull rain guns (giant agricultural sprinklers) slowly across the fields night and day, but it is never as good as the real thing and westruggle to get around all the crops before the first lot start looking thirsty again. 

We will start picking sweetcorn in earnest this week. After battling with the weeds through a wet spring, our persistence has been rewarded with a pretty good crop. There are no badgers here but the ragondin (giant rodents the size of beavers) have acquired a taste for the ripening cobs. Introduced from South America for their pelts, they have become endemic and an occasional pest.

Meanwhile we have a fantastic crop of padron peppers, which will be on the extras list for the rest of the summer and will also appear in some of the boxes. These small green peppers are super trendy and ridiculously expensive in all those tapas bars that are taking over the country. They are best picked small and fried gently until the skin is blistered. Serve immediately with plenty of sea salt; most have a mild, wonderful flavour with about one in four delivering some moderate heat, and the occasional lurker with a real kick. They are great as a snack with a beer. 

Guy Watson

vote for your vegman!
Next month we gather with all of our local vegmen and vegladies for our annual head-scratching and navel-gazing about why we do what we do, and how we could do it better. There will be prizes for Vegman/Lady of the Year and the runners-up, so if you would like to put in a good word for yours, please email voteforyourvegman@www.riverford.co.uk/blog by 5th August.

If you’re looking for something to keep the kids occupied, you can download our free Riverford Big Worm Dig pack here: http://www.riverfordbigwormdig.com/

Sweetcorn stories from France


Pascal, star picker, with sweetcorn from our French farm.

Down in the Vendée the maize is head-high and growing so fast you can almost hear it. We are picking sweetcorn (maize’s smaller, sweeter and less robust cousin) for your boxes a full six weeks ahead of the UK. Our season started well, with lettuce in March, but this was followed by a poor few months. Now, after some sun, the crops have perked up and things look more promising. The chillies, peppers, tomatillos and cape gooseberries are all doing well if a little late; they will available from late August. Even the heat-loving melons have recovered from the weather battering and look as if they might produce a decent crop for the first time in three years. The garlic is harvested and drying well; it will be on the extras list as soon as we find time to bunch it.


The only way through the sweetcorn crop is with a wheel barrow. The cobbs are tipped at the end of the row for grading before cooling and sending back to Riverford to go in your boxes.

Most days we are picking sweetcorn. Water-logging and gales in April and May made it hard to keep the crop covers on, rotted some of the seed and made the crop mature unevenly; we will need to pass through the crop two or three times to get all the cobs at their sweetest. After much thought, we decided to employ a fleet of wheelbarrows. On a good day we can pick 1,500 cobs each, so we need a team of 20 to pick enough for all the boxes this week. Farmers tend to be poor linguists (I managed an F in O-level Spanish) and given the international nature of our team, maintaining an orderly progression of wheelbarrows amongst a head-high crop has been challenging.


Evidence of a ragondon (giant vegetarian rat) attack on some sweetcorn (!)

In the UK we fight to keep the badgers out of our corn. Here it is coypu, known locally as ragondins: giant fearless vegetarian rodents from Brazil who flatten the plants in search of the sweet cobs. They are bigger than most cats and have no natural predators. If only they tasted better I suspect there would be fewer of them. Ragondin pâté is a local speciality but no one seems to like it much. If you would like to see something of where your sweetcorn is coming from, we will post photos of the farm on our Facebook page.

Guy Watson


Pascal and Phillip fighting through a particularly weedy patch to pick sweetcorn into barrows.

What’s what in the box – 4th October 2010

In this week’s video, Jane gives you tips on using sweetcorn, savoy cabbage and calabrese broccoli.

what’s what in the box – 4th october 2010


Here is our recipe for creamed corn with cumin and thyme.

savoy cabbage
Try cooking it in a little bit of oil with bacon and caraway seeds. Cook the seeds and bacon, then when the seeds start to pop, throw in the shredded, washed cabbage and sweat it down for 5 minutes.

calabrese broccoli
Try this recipe for Annie O’Carroll’s roast calabrese with chilli and soy.

veg of the month – sweetcorn

sweetcornYou may have noticed that sweetcorn started early this year. We had hoped to have our first ever crop from our French farm in the Vendée, but sadly the weeds took over and dashed our plans. Sweetcorn is a temperate crop and needs good light levels and warm sun to flourish, so we sourced some early on from Suffolk, where the growing conditions are ideal. The sweetcorn in the boxes now is grown by Jono Smales in the New Forest and Peter Wastenage and John Walter-Symonds, two of our SDOP members in Devon. They judge when the cobs are ripe by feel alone; if you start peeling back the leaves and peeking inside, the cob quickly deteriorates.

Keep sweetcorn in the fridge encased in its outer leaves (the best sort of packaging) and eat it within a day or two for the best flavour. To enjoy it at its simplest, pull off the outer leaves and silky threads, before boiling for 5-10 minutes in unsalted water until tender. Smear with good old fashioned butter. It is also good on the BBQ, if you haven’t yet packed it away for winter. Soak the unpeeled cobs in water for an hour, then cook very gently for 25-45 minutes until the leaves turn brown. The peeled-back leaves make a natural handle for the cooked cobs.

If a particular recipe calls for the kernels only, they are very easy to remove (either raw or cooked). Cut off the end to give some stability, stand it up and slice downwards, cutting the kernels off with a sharp knife. Our cook Kirsty demonstrates this on last week’s ‘what’s what in the box’ video. You could make a smoky salsa with the kernels, to serve with grilled meat or fish. Spread uncooked kernels out on an oven tray and dry roast at 160°C for about 20 minutes, then mix with kidney beans, chopped fresh tomatoes and an oil and vinegar dressing. They are also good for making soup. Cook a chopped onion and a couple of garlic cloves in butter until soft, add the kernels from three corn cobs and cover with a mixture of half water and half milk. Simmer for 10 minutes, then purée, pass through a sieve and season to taste. If you have a favourite recipe for sweetcorn, enter it in our monthly competition to win a fruit box.

What’s what in the box – 20th September 2010

In this week’s video, Kirsty talks about sweetcorn and sweet potatoes. Look out for the baby cows!

what’s what in the box – 20th september 2010

If you don’t have a big cooking pot, make an incision and the cob should snap in half. Here is a recipe Jane uses for sweetcorn fritters.

If you’re not a vegetarian, we have a recipe for chicken and sweetcorn soup here.

order our sweetcorn online

sweet potatoes

These can be used for a simple supper dish – roast them like a jacket potato. You can also mash them. You can slice them thinly and use in a gratin and you don’t need to peel them. They also work well roasted in wedges with olive oil, paprika, cayenne and a few herbs at 200˚C (gas 6) for 40-45 minutes.

order our sweet potatoes online

Veg of the month – sweetcorn

The current spell of bright, sunny weather means now is the ideal time to enjoy corn at its ripe, sweet best. Our field workers judge when a cob is ready by feel alone; if you peel back the leaves it will quickly desweetcornteriorate. The most damaging (and unlikely-sounding) pest to the crop is our local badger population. Badgers have a sweet tooth and adore wreaking havoc through a field, grabbing mouthfuls of sweetcorn and generally delighting in destruction. An electric fence can keep them at bay, but even then they have been known to outsmart us.

Keep sweetcorn in the fridge encased in its outer leaves (the best sort of packaging) and use within a day or two for the best flavour. It tastes great on the BBQ, if you haven’t yet packed it away for winter; soak the unpeeled cobs in water for an hour, then cook very gently for 25-45 minutes until the leaves turn brown. If you are boiling the cobs, pull off the outer leaves and silky threads, before cooking for 5-10 minutes in unsalted water until tender.

You can stand a cob on its end and slice the kernels off with a sharp knife, although the most satisfying way to eat sweetcorn is undoubtedly to grip it with both hands and gnash off the kernels. For a new slant on the traditional, serve with red pepper and chive butter. Put skinned roasted red peppers, butter, garlic and chilli sauce in a food processor and whizz until combined, then stir in chopped chives, season well and smear on the cobs. Or make a quick soup. Cook a chopped onion and crushed garlic cloves in butter until soft, add the kernels from three corn cobs and cover with a mixture of half water and half milk. Simmer for 10 minutes then purée and pass through a sieve. Cooked sweetcorn is also good in a frittata with kidney beans, grated cheese and red onion. We have chosen sweetcorn fritters as the starter in our ‘box to share’ menu to introduce new people to Riverford; you can find the recipe on the website.