When I was in Vermont last winter, I asked one of the locals about their maple syrup. I wondered whether there was a particular brand or type that she recommended.
The Vermont resident told me, “Well, all of the maple syrup is the same. So any brand will be fine. The only thing is – it has to be from Vermont. Otherwise, it’s just syrup.”
Her response made me smile, because growing up in Iowa, I had a maple tree in my backyard. There are maple syrup makers in our state too. (I bought some local maple cream recently that was just terrific.) I’d imagine those syrup-makers would disagree on whether or not they can call their product “maple syrup” or not.
However, coming from a small state, I totally get the Vermont local’s proprietary nature. People everywhere can be very opinionated about what makes their particular state or country special. Iowa is no different.
For example, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told the merits of Iowa’s black dirt. As compliments go, it’s a rather unglamorous one. The best you have is black dirt? It’s like saying, “Have you seen that woman’s wrinkly baby feet? I mean, wow!”
And if you tell an Iowan that you recently drove to Nebraska, they will say, “Oh, the terrain of Nebraska is so boring! In Iowa we have gentle rolling hills.” They always use those three words – gentle rolling hills. But here are the facts – the states look the same. Some parts of Iowa are hilly, other parts flatter. But if someone transported you in a blindfold and then dropped you off on a highway in Iowa or a highway in Nebraska, you really wouldn’t know the difference.
I even had an Iowa friend get in a heated argument with a Californian over which state held claim to the best corn. More than even their black dirt, Iowans are fierce about corn.
Iowa doesn’t have a Grand Canyon, Old Faithful, tall mountains, or oceanfront to draw tourism or acclaim. (There’s a reason that a truck stop is on the state’s “must see” list.) So watch your words when it comes to corn, dirt, college football, or the State Fair, because they will cut you. (Okay, they won’t cut you. But they will passive aggressively give you a disconcerting side eye.)
I’ve had corn from all over the country, and you know what it tastes like? Corn. Obviously fresh corn straight from the cob is the best, especially when it’s at its seasonal peak. When the kernels are juicy and plump, and they haven’t gotten starchy from sitting around too long, the flavor is incomparable. But the state where it was grown is irrelevant.
Tomato & sweet corn salad
That said, the sweet corn right now is pretty remarkable. Lately I’ve been enjoying it uncooked and straight from the cob in a tomato and sweet corn salad. While tomatoes are in all of their summer glory, this salad offers the best of the season. It is topped with pepitas for a nutty edge and drizzled with jalapeño dressing.
The salad dressing is a variation of my recent jalapeño cashew cheese spread. After making and re-making the cashew cheese in testing, I wanted to come up with some alternative uses. So I started taking a couple spoonfuls of the cheese, adding a splash of water to thin it, and then stirring it until it had the consistency of a ranch dressing. So if you already have the jalapeño cashew cheese in your refrigerator, feel free to go with that method. Otherwise, in the recipe below, I share how to make the dressing on its own, instead of making cheese first.
Even though the dressing has pickled jalapeño brine in it, it’s not overly hot. (My favorite pickled jalapeño brand is Jeff’s Naturals. Their jalapeños are slightly less spicy than other varieties, but all of the flavor is still there. Plus, the jalapeños themselves have a great crunch. I can’t abide a squishy jalapeño slice.)
The salad is wonderful as a summer side dish. But it also can be a meal all on its own with the addition of Creole-seasoned tofu squares. The tofu is really easy to prepare, and the whole salad can be ready in about fifteen minutes. To season the tofu, I have been using the Creole seasoning mix that I bought in North Carolina. However, if you have a favorite brand, feel free to use that instead. Spiciness levels vary. So if your brand is on the hot side, start with less seasoning and work up.
Make this tomato and sweet corn salad now while the produce is at its peak with corn from your favorite local grower. And if you’re ever planning a trip to Iowa, come in June when the fields are filled with fireflies. The corn won’t be knee high by then, but I think you’ll find it’s even more magical than the World’s Largest Truck Stop.
Do people in your state or country get proprietary about certain things? Do you think it’s deserved? Tell me about it in the comments.