There are mysteries of the modern world that might never be solved, like the forces of nature, science and beauty that preserved Paul Rudd’s face in 1981. The origin story of baby corn is different. For too long, we’ve puzzled over stir-fries, wondering if these small yellow fingers are vegetable or scrap material from Martha Stewart’s 3D printer, replicated and distributed as a social experiment. I decided to learn about baby corn’s heritage from the source rather than live as an uninformed skeptic of tiny produce that resembles a chicken talon with goosebumps.
Now, I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried to contact a baby corn, but it’s quite an arduous task since they’re primarily sourced from Thailand, Taiwan, Kenya and Indonesia. Baby corn also avoid social media, but fortuitously, one piece had been harvested from my neighbor’s garden thanks to sheer boredom. She said that her corn would be “all ears” to field my burning questions, so we sat in her kitchen — well, I sat; the corn lounged on her side on top of the table because she couldn’t bend at the hips. Though it sounds like a belligerent gesture for a first meeting, it somehow suited her.
I first thanked her for her time. “Listen, I’m grateful to be here,” she replied, rocking on her cob gleefully.
“People think you’re cute,” I said.
“Really?” she asked. Her kernels clenched. “Well, do they know how ‘cute’ the intensive labor is that went into birthing me and my siblings? That our silks were stripped entirely by hand because machines that harvest corn don’t have a ‘cornette’ setting and that we’re considered the prodigal children of the corn even though we never meant to be high-maintenance?”
“So…you are corn?”
“They don’t call us ‘baby corn’ for nothing, though the condescending jerks in charge voted against ‘candle corn,’ our nickname in Thailand, and our proposed ‘Yung Corn.'”
“What about baby carrots?” I asked. “Should we be more mindful in how we address them, too?”
“No, fuck them,” she snorted. “They live shamelessly as manufactured imposters.”
She sensed my discomfort and took a deep breath.
“Sorry. Touchy subject. Look, here’s how it happens: we’re plucked before the hairy, male part of the flower pollinates the silks of the female ear, which turns each fertilized silk into a single kernel. The kernel’s sugar-making doesn’t happen until later in the growth process, so we’re less sweet than larger corn, too. That’s why we’re preserved with gross acidic liquids when we’re shipped in jars from abroad. Ha, abroad. Get it? ‘A broad.'”
I sensed that I was losing her. “Do you ever question how life would’ve been different had you not been harvested at such a young age?”
“We all have our destiny,” she sighed. “Sure, I could’ve been sautéed and nestled beneath seared scallops, but I’m here with you. Butter is nice, but company is better. Speaking of which, what’s that smell?”
Photo by Emily Zirimis.