No matter where you travel in Iowa right now, you’re bound to see signs proclaiming sweet corn for sale. Be it an elaborate roadside stand, the back of a pickup truck or a kid’s wagon, the chances are if you stop you’re in for a treat.
There’s a lot of mouth-watering goods grown in the Hawkeye State, but in my opinion there’s nothing that will top sweet corn.
Sure, by the time you’ve boiled it in water with a ring of Pella bologna, gently massaged it with a golden layer of butter, and added a few new potatoes, it might raise a little havoc with your diet, but the sweet corn season doesn’t last long.
Naturally, this all reminds me of the good old days when the sweet corn seemed a little sweeter and no one worried about calories and the like.
In the mid-1950s, there were several “canning factories” in this area. Farmers delivered sweet corn to them by the truck loads. It was cleaned, cooked, canned and packaged. The corn then made its way to grocery stores across the nation.
Nearly every town in Iowa also had a creamery. The combination of prime sweet corn and some of the best butter ever produced made it a treat people would drive miles to enjoy.
This was also the time of the last really great summers — before television completely destroyed outdoor entertainment.
One of the best ways to spend a hot summer evening was to take in a baseball game. Most towns either had a baseball team or were near a town that did.
Those teams then formed leagues, which pitted one town against another for the entire summer.
This sort of competition spawned a lot of rivalries — plus some great summertime entertainment for the home folks.
Slater had one of the best teams in the state — the Nite Hawks. Dedicated fans would fill Slater’s lighted ballpark two or three nights a week.
The fans came from all over the area. Many of the rooters had their own special spot to sit on the bleachers. You could tell a “stranger” because he or she might accidentally take the seat normally reserved for a regular.
Many of the kids in town would sit on the edge of the fields that surrounded the ball park, waiting to shag the occasional foul ball.
Finding a foul and returning it to the designated foul ball official meant a whole dime. That dime would buy a bottle of pop or two bags of popcorn or a couple of candy bars.
Besides all the action on and around the field, there were also special evenings. Those were sort of a bonus — a time when the price of a ticket also brought the purchaser a treat like free watermelon or ice cream.
The biggest attraction of the year, however, was the free sweet corn night. A truckload of steaming hot sweet corn — still in its husks — would be delivered from the Ames canning factory to the ball park.
The appearance of the truck would send everyone running in its direction. Hopefully the truck would come rolling in between innings, because few were left to watch the game.
A special stand, erected next to the concession stand, was where the corn would be unloaded. Several volunteers would serve the corn — drenched in Slater’s own VitaGold butter. What a treat!
I have no idea how many dozen ears of corn would fit in one of those trucks, but it sure didn’t last long. The trick was to eat fast and get back in line as soon as possible.
Like I said earlier, this was back during the days when no one worried about the “health hazards” of butter and salt. All we did was enjoy ourselves — sometimes to the point of nearly bursting.
Today, it’s hard to enjoy an ear of sweet corn without someone mentioning calories, cholesterol and the like. It almost makes you feel guilty. ALMOST!
Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He and his wife, Sharon, live near Cambridge.