Fall, Gourds, and Corn Chowder
I’ve been giggling all week since reading this post from McSweeney’s. There are a lot of swears in it but the f-bombs aren’t gratuitous; each one is needed to express the author’s love for fall and decorative gourds. His profane enthusiasm worked on me – for someone who isn’t into fall or decorative gourds, this made me want to aggressively decorate my home with gourds and shout at everyone I came across while kicking through the first fallen leaves: “It’s fall, $&*%ers!”
This past weekend, my boyfriend and I were a couple of hours north of Toronto at a friend’s cottage on Georgian Bay. Instead of taking the highway back to the city, we took a scenic side road. It’s fall, we’re in Ontario driving through rolling, picturesque farmlands, and we come across a farm stand where fall’s harvest is for sale. The bounty of pumpkins and squash set out in large bins and flatbed trailers and a table groaning under the weight of potatoes, onions, corn, cabbages, peppers, cauliflower and straggler tomatoes convinced us to pull over. Yes, of course I was interested in getting some (edible) farm produce but what I could barely admit to myself and not admit at all to my boyfriend was that I was hoping that they’d have some decorative gourds, too.
I looked at the pumpkins, there were ones for pie and ones for jack-o-lanterns. There was a time not too long ago when I didn’t know the difference. I thought jack-o-lanterns were perfectly fine for pies. I learned the hard way that this isn’t true. There were bins of spaghetti squash, acorn squash, all sorts of other squash varieties I had never seen before including carnival squash. These were too pretty to pass up and I bought two.
And then jack pot, there was the gourd bin. As I was oohing and aahing, my boyfriend comes up to me and says, “I’m surprised you want these.” He doesn’t know that a profane, overly enthusiastic piece of writing on decorative gourd season had done its job: “I think we can put them out around the house.” We both peer into the large bin and start rifling through all the gourds, trying to find the ugliest ones.
The proprietress comes round, sees us looking at the gourds and says, “Those are five for $2.” My excitement spikes at the sound of such a deal on these non-edible produce cum autumnal decorations. She then points to the pretty squashes cradled in my arms and adds, “you can eat those, y’know.” Yes, I know. Thank you.
Our attention goes back to the bin. We want the weirdest ones. We notice one looks like a crooked penis and decide we have to have that one. Another one looks like a mod space ship. We’ll take that one, too. After some deliberation, we finally have our motley assortment of five gourds. I head to the check out and notice the rest of the (edible) bounty: corn, onions, potatoes, peppers. I want corn chowder. The idea hits me like a sucker punch. Corn chowder is a perfect dish to transition from summer to fall. The last of the summer corn and fall’s hardy potatoes, together in a warm and comforting bowl.
Once home, I realized that I was missing a few things that most typical corn chowder recipes call for. But sometimes following a recipe to the letter is nonsense. Do you think the woman on the frontier who wanted to make chowder decided not to feed her family that night because she didn’t have a rib of celery? I didn’t have any celery and my carrots were covered in weird white stringy things and I didn’t have any bacon either. No matter. I just used peppers as my aromatics along with my onion and garlic. Smoky kovbasa is a flavourful substitute for the bacon. It’s leaner than bacon so I had to use extra butter and oil when frying but having bites of that delicious sausage in the chowder worked perfectly for me.
Fresh Corn Chowder
adapted from Elizabeth Germain’s recipe in Cooks Illustrated American Classics 2008
5 ears of corn
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil (I used grapeseed but you could use any type – it’s just to keep the butter from burning)
1 cup diced smoky kovbasa
1 cup diced sweet onion
1 cup diced red bell pepper
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
1 tablespoon flour
2 cups chicken broth
4 small to medium red potatoes, peeled and diced
1 cup milk (I used 2% even though the original recipe called for whole)
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
½ cup heavy cream
I didn’t have any aromatic vegetables around to use. If you want to add to or substitute the red bell pepper with a rib of celery and a carrot (both diced) then please do. I just used the whole red bell pepper because I didn’t have anything else to add to the onion. That’s not the only reason, it’s also a great pop of colour in the chowder.
First thing to do is tend to the corn. Take two of the ears and grate all of the kernels and pulp into a bowl. Then take the back of a knife and scrape it down the ears, taking off any remnants of pulp. You’ll have a milky and pulpy corn mess. Set aside. With the remaining 3 ears of corn, take the knife – this time using the sharp side – and cut off all of the kernels and set aside. This, too, is best done in a bowl so you don’t get any errant kernels flying here or there.
Over medium heat, in a medium sized heavy pot, heat the butter and oil until the butter is foaming. Add the diced kovbasa and let it brown well before stirring it and letting it brown some more. To get the most flavour, let the meat develop a nice crusty, caramelized exterior. Once the kovbasa has that nice seared brown exterior, remove it from the pan using a slotted spoon (to leave the fat behind) and set aside.
Add the diced onion to the pan and cook for about 5 to 6 minutes until the onion has softened. Add the diced jalapeno and red bell pepper. Cook for a few minutes more. Add the minced garlic and cook for about one minute more.
Sprinkle the flour into the pan and for the next two minutes stir constantly while you cook the flour with the vegetables. Next add the broth and then the milk, grated corn pulp, potatoes, bay leaf and thyme to the pot and bring to boil. Season with salt and pepper. Turn down the heat and simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender.
Add the corn kernels, kovbasa and the heavy cream and continue simmering over low for no more than 10 minutes. You still want the corn to be a bit crunchy and fresh. The texture of the corn kernels is lovely in the chowder against the tender potatoes and creamy broth. Check for seasoning again and add any salt and pepper if needed.
When serving, and this isn’t necessary, you can garnish with chopped chives or parsley to give it a fresh pop of herby green flavour.