Every other Thursday, we bring you Nicholas Day -- on cooking for children, and with children, and despite children. Also, occasionally, on top of.

Today: Taking the sweet out of sweet corn. Just a little.

corn chowder

Shop the Story

Eating your vegetables is easier than it used to be.

I do not expect this argument to convince your children. (Although if you added And I had to walk 10 miles in the snow to eat them, that would totally work.) But it has been empirically verified: Isaiah’s produce section is sweeter than the produce section of my childhood.  

This applies to far too many fruits and vegetables, but let’s take, most obviously, sweet corn. When I ate my first ear of sweet corn, it was still the sweet corn my father ate. The dominant variety today—a supersweet hybrid out of Illinois—was grown by almost no one. It is now grown by almost everyone and sold everywhere. The rush to refrigerate and consume sweet corn as fast as you humanly can, before all the sugars flee into starch, is advice for another time and genome. Isaiah’s sweet corn is literally a different vegetable than mine was.

I was thinking about this recently when I made Amanda’s lovely corn-centric summer weekend pasta and an argument broke out over whether I was cooking starch with a starch sauce. It was only later that I realized what I was really cooking: starch with a dessert sauce.

summer weekend pasta

All of which is a long way of saying that 9 out of 10 children prefer sweet corn. And that their parents end up eating an acre of it. When winter comes I will lust for a single ear of local corn, but I cannot eat another right now. So I have disguised it.

Corn chowder is the bastard, landlocked cousin of the original maritime chowders, and its modern descendents like New England clam chowder and Manhattan chowder, all of which have some sort of salty terroir. Corn chowder has no terroir; if it had any terroir, it would be Iowan, which is really not where chowder is supposed to come from. But even Jasper White calls corn chowder “the indisputable king of farmhouse chowders” and there is no shame in listening to a New Englander like Jasper White.

Jasper White 50 Chowders

Corn chowder is also, at long last, a meal in itself. Summer is the season of many small things on the table, each of which we cherish, like parents doting on small children, for its own unique characteristics. We love them just as they are: we love the tomato most when it is most like a tomato.

But after months of idol worship—let us all praise the perfectly ripe peach—it is restorative to smash everything together until every ingredient is subordinated to the greater good. No, you are not special, I tell the vegetables. You are a corn chowder cog.

It is a relief to enter the season of single-dish meals. Lately Isaiah, trained by the meals of summer, has started to complain whenever dinner does not consist of numerous dishes. “But we usually have LOTS OF THINGS,” he says, as if we sit down to a spread of banchan every night. The other night we made a clean break: I set a table of three bowls and spoons, like we were eating in a Dickens novel. Every bowl was clean.

A word about the cornstarch, which you may find vaguely unaesthetic: use it. A proper corn chowder shouldn’t flow like broth. It should have an autumnal weight on your spoon; it should huddle together for warmth.

corn chowder

Corn Chowder

Lightly adapted from Jasper White's 50 Chowders

This recipe serves 3-4

4 ears fresh corn
4 ounces bacon, diced
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium red pepper, diced
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
1 pound potatoes, preferably Yukon Gold, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
3 cups chicken stock (or a rich vegetable stock)
2 teaspoons cornstarch, dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
1 cup heavy cream

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom


Listen Now

Join The Sandwich Universe co-hosts (and longtime BFFs) Molly Baz and Declan Bond as they dive deep into beloved, iconic sandwiches.

Listen Now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Joe11
  • Kitchen Butterfly
    Kitchen Butterfly
  • fiveandspice
I'm the author of a book on the science and history of infancy, Baby Meets World. My website is nicholasday.net; I tweet over at @nicksday. And if you need any good playdoh recipes, just ask.


Joe11 November 30, 2012
Rainy and cold here today. This looks perfect!
Kitchen B. September 27, 2012
Gosh my dad walked 30 miles...without shoes :-). he used to say......Glad to see this is an intercontinental 'line' parents in the ages used! Love the corn. Love the chowder. And the writing.
fiveandspice September 13, 2012
"No you are not special...you are a corn chowder cog." I love this! I'm definitely going to start telling my soup ingredients this. Kids too, maybe, once we have them.