It's one thing to stop at a grocery store or roadside stand and rifle through a bin of corn that's already been picked and manhandled. It's an entirely different thing to stand alone and forlorn in a field of the stuff trying to figure out what's good eatin' and what's best left for the racoons.
At first, I'd wrench a cob off the stalk, peel back the husk and see whether the kernels looked uniform and plump, like I'd done for years at farmer's markets and other places of corny repute. But when I got one that was spindly looking or not mature enough, there was was no pile to throw it back into. The only place it could go was hurtling into the alfalfa field, or dropped on the ground right there where I stood. Neither choice seemed right. I didn't want to discard innocent corn cobs just because they were immature or had crooked kernels.
Briefly, I entertained the idea of a "Free to Good Home" bin, where people could adopt the irregulars and put them to use in some corn chowder or relish, but I knew that scheme would never fly with the brothers Lowry. Plus I knew that people who came to check out roadside stands would be there for one thing: FRESH SWEET CORN. They were not there to make relishes or other corn-related delicacies; they would want pretty, bright-kernelled cobs that looked as straight and perfect as Brooke Shields' teeth. They would want to boil them, or BBQ them, or throw them in a campfire and eat them off the cob. No, a bunch of misfit corn was not what customers would be looking for. I would just have to do a better job of picking out the cobs. So I started feeling up the corn. Don't judge me.
My fingers were tentative at first, because I didn't want to hurt the corn or anything. You know, kind of a "Hi there corn, how are you today, can I buy you a drink?" sort of thing. Eventually, I became bolder. If the cob felt light and skinny, I skipped it. If it felt heavy and voluptuous, I gave it a twist, snapped it off and popped it in my sack. I quality checked my work and saw that I was getting it right about two-thirds of the time, which was an improvement over apologizing to every other one before I dropped it in the dirt.
Now that I was in the corn-pickin' zone, I bent, twisted, pulled and snapped my way down the row. It had turned out to be a muggy afternoon. Tilly made my head feel like I had a heated towel wrapped around it. The ragweed was as tall as my nose in some places, which is not handy for a girl with allergies. Plus there was this horrid kind of vine that grabbed me by the ankles every time I went to the truck to empty my sack. I christened it "tripweed" and started to seriously wonder whether all those arguments I'd had with the boys about the evils of Roundup had been a mistake.
I could fit about three dozen cobs into my sack before my shoulder started to scream, and I thought I was making pretty good progress for a new girl. But the trips back and forth to the truck became more and more exhausting. Apart from the heat and the tripweed, there was the small problem of remembering where to find my place in the row. I could hear my mother-in-law's sensible voice in my head: "Just tie a bright scarf around the last stalk you picked from." I didn't have a bright scarf; I had pink underwear on though. Problem solved. And it had only taken me nine dozen cobs to figure it out.
It was somewhere around my twelfth dozen that I encountered quite possibly the most hideous thing I have ever seen in nature. Actually, "encountered" is too mild a word for what happened, which was that I reached down to feel up a particularly plump looking cob and my hand disappeared into a mushy glop of goo. First I screamed. Then I did one of those "Ohmigodgetitoffme" dances, trampling cornstalks in my rush to get away. But wouldn't you have done the same, if you'd allowed your skin to touch THIS?
Apparently corn smut is a pretty normal fungus that wouldn't surprise any seasoned corn farmer. I, however, am not a seasoned corn farmer. I am a neophyte corn picker who does not like plunging her hand into what I can only imagine an eviscerated Jabba the Hutt must feel like. I wanted to drive down the sixth concession and dive into the lake to make sure none of that vile goo was still on me. But there was still corn to pick, and miles to go before I showered.
I only made it to 15 dozen before I "encountered" more corn smut. I said more bad words and had a mental conversation with D. If buddy didn't think 15 dozen was enough, he could damn well go back and pick himself some more when he got home from work. This girl was not touching any more alien corn slime today.
Now it was time to put our crop to the test and see if anyone would buy it. I closed the tailgate (which I had only recently learned not to call the trunk) and got in the truck. Peeling a damp, limp Tilly off my head, I paused to survey my face in the rear-view mirror. I was sweaty, red-faced, dishevelled, and not in a wholesome farm-girl kind of way. Oh well. I'd let my customers see what REAL farmers looked like after a hard day's work. Hopefully they'd be so distracted by the prospect of freshly picked sweet corn that they wouldn't cast a glance at the sweaty chick selling it. And if anyone made a comment, I'd introduce them to my gross friend, Mr. Smut.