Most summers, I fly out to St. Louis to teach adventurous Midwesterners how to cook Maine seafood. At International Choux Co., the cooking school at The Inns at St. Albans that sits about 20 miles west of the city, I walk attendees through the processes of shucking oysters, steaming lobsters, searing scallops and grilling sustainably harvested blue fin tuna.

I typically start these culinary boot camps with a recipe for blushing seafood chowder I developed for the website Food52.com about eight years ago and that was recently published in “Catch: A Maine seafood cookbook,” assembled as a Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association fundraiser. It’s an interesting chowder that includes both Spanish chorizo (instead of bacon) and smoked paprika. It’s adaptable, so I can make it with any type of fish I want to introduce eaters to, like Maine haddock and clams as I did during this class, or hot smoked salmon or pollack, as I’ve done in the past. And it’s sustainable because I make the broth from spent corn cobs, a trick I learned from chef Shannon Bard, who owned the since closed Zapoteca in Portland.

Don’t throw out those cobs. Use them as the basis of Corncob Jelly. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

A student in my recent class saw corn stock on the ingredients list for the recipe and asked for an explanation. Well, you take a half-dozen cobs after the kernels have been removed, stick them in a stockpot with onion, a few sprigs of thyme, black peppercorns and water. Simmer the lot for 20 minutes, cool slightly, then strain. The finished product is a sweet-ish vegetable stock that works great in the chowder.

“That sounds like the base for my grandmother’s corncob jelly recipe,” she said from her perch on a stool around the demonstration counter.

“OK, now it’s your turn to explain to me just what that is!” said I.

Missouri is one of the country’s top 10 (number 9, actually) corn-producing states. The Show Me state’s corn crop was worth $3 billion in 2021. So, it should be no surprise that folks living in that region have come up with many ways to make use of spent cobs.

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Corncob jelly, according to “Jelly for Scrimpers,” an article published in South Dakota Magazine in 2018, dates back to late 19th-century homesteaders there, who made it from dried red corncobs from field corn used to feed livestock. They weighted the cobs down in a large pot of water and boiled the liquid to create a rosy-colored stock. They added sugar and boiled the mixture again to produce a loose jelly, also referred to as “Make Do Jelly,” that tastes a little like apple jelly.

When the stock was made with yellow corncobs, the jelly that resulted was paler, and was often called “corncob honey” or “mock honey.” Because corn has no natural gelling agent, before powdered pectin was widely available circa 1930, the concentrated stock-and-sugar mixture resembled syrup more than jelly.

“We can all appreciate the fact that corncob jelly never was the first jar of preserves our grandmothers set out when company came,” Laura Johnson Andrews writes in “Jelly for Scrimpers.” “And they probably chose flashier recipes to submit to the church cookbook.”

That was then. You can find anything on the internet now. And I was able to try out several corncob jelly recipes. I’ve got plenty of real honey from my own bees, so I was not really interested in a cheap imitation made without commercial pectin as some recipes suggested. I was somewhat taken aback by the 1:1 ratio of sugar to stock in most recipes that use high-methoxyl pectins such as those sold by Certo and Sure-Jell. But the flavor of the stuff from recipes made with little or no sugar and low-methoxyl pectin from Pomona Universal Pectin was more like Jell-O than jelly. What I settled on was a recipe I adapted to use the cobs from fresh yellow Maine corn; less processed, organic golden granulated sugar; and Sure-Jell for a solid set. I added thyme for complementary flavor, jalapeno for kick, and turmeric to brighten the yellow color.

I think corncob jelly is a little too sweet to eat every day on toast. But it’s a nice complement to warm corn muffins made with Maine-grown and milled cornmeal and whole kernels of seasonal fresh local corn. Whenever I crack open a jar of corncob jelly, I will think kindly of the people I met in Missouri who showed me the way to this unusual condiment.

Corncob Jelly.  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Corncob Jelly

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The thyme adds earthiness, the jalapeno kick and the turmeric color. Adjust them as you like. I put the jelly up in small jars because that seems to be enough to slather on a dozen double corn muffins.

Makes 12 (4-ounce) jars

12 corncobs, kernels removed and reserved for another use
6 sprigs thyme
1 jalapeno with seeds, quartered
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1.75 ounces powdered fruit pectin, such as Sure-Jell
3 cups granulated sugar

Add the corncobs, thyme, jalapeno and turmeric to a large stockpot. Cover with 4 cups of cold water. Place the pot over medium high heat. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes.

Remove and compost cobs. Strain the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth. The liquid should now measure 3 cups. Wash and dry the stock pot.

Pour the liquid into the clean stockpot and stir in the pectin. Place the pot over medium-high heat and bring the mixture to a full rolling boil. Add the sugar and bring back to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 5 minutes, making sure the sugar has dissolved. Skim any foam from the surface of the jelly.

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Transfer the jelly to clean jars with tight-fitting lids. The jars can be stored in the refrigerator for two weeks or be processed in a water bath for 10 minutes to make them shelf stable.

Double Corn Muffins. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Double Corn Muffins

Over the years, whenever fresh corn has been in season, I’ve tried a dozen recipes for double corn muffins, trying to find a perfect moisture level and corn flavor. But it’s this one, adapted from a recipe published in Bon Appetit magazine about five years ago, that I keep returning to. I make it with Maine flint cornmeal. Producers of that include Fairwinds Farms in Topsham, Maine Grains in Skowhegan and Songbird Farm in Unity.

Makes 1 dozen muffins

1½ cups all-purpose flour
1¼ cups Maine flint cornmeal
1/3 cup sugar
2½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
2 cups fresh corn kernels (from 2-3 cobs)
2 large eggs, plus 1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
2/3 cup whole milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Corn cob jelly, for serving

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with silicone or recycled paper liners.

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Whisk the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and the chili powder in a large bowl. Stir in 1½ cups of the corn kernels.

Whisk the eggs and egg yolk in a large measuring cup, then whisk in the sour cream or yogurt, the milk and the butter.

Create a well in the center of the combined dry ingredients. Pour the egg mixture into it and stir with a wooden spoon until ingredients are just combined.

Divide the batter among prepared muffin cups. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup corn kernels over the muffins.

Bake the muffins until the tops are golden brown and a tester inserted into the center of one comes out clean, 18–20 minutes. Cool the muffins slightly in the pan, then let them continue cooling on a wire rack. Eat warm or at room temperature, slathered with corncob jelly.

Local foods advocate Christine Burns Rudalevige is the editor of Edible Maine magazine and the author of “Green Plate Special,” both a column about eating sustainably in the Portland Press Herald and the name of her 2017 cookbook. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

Sprinkle the Double Corn Muffins with fresh corn kernels before putting the tray in the oven. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer


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