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Lend me your ears

Seven Oaks Farm hadn't even sown its fields before fielding phone inquiries about its locally famous sweet corn.

"We've had calls since March," says landowner Doreen Bradshaw. "And most of the calls have been 'Is the corn ready?' "

Corn still wasn't ready for the farm store's opening last week, but Seven Oaks promised that its most popular product will be ready — finally — this week. The corn season is expected to run through Oct. 10 with daily sales of 4,500 to more than 10,000 pounds.

"That's a lot of corn," Bradshaw says. "The retail thing has really been a boon for us."

Seven Oaks opened its country store in 1995 after growing corn for wholesale through the 1980s. The Central Point property, which Bradshaw's father founded 75 years ago, long specialized in onions and seed crops. Strawberries brought Seven Oaks acclaim for more than a decade before corn took pride of place in customers' hearts.

"It's always really fresh; it's picked every day," Bradshaw says. "If it's 24 hours old, it goes out to the cattle."

Although home gardens are on the rise, corn is one crop that isn't often grown for personal use, Bradshaw says, explaining that it takes up a lot of space and is best planted in successions. Many of the farm's customers grow tomatoes, zucchini and other common garden plants, visiting Seven Oaks only for corn, she adds.

Seven Oaks grows three types of bi-colored sweet corn but doesn't divulge the names of specific varieties because they spend "way too much" planning for the year's crop, says farm manager and Bradshaw's son-in-law Jerry Mefford.

"We're always looking for a better one," Mefford says. "We're trying new ones all the time."

A native of southern Illinois, Mefford provides savvy if not passion for the farm's primary produce. "I was raised on sweet corn," he says, adding that he tires of eating it by season's end.

When he does indulge, Mefford says he prefers to barbecue corn on the cob if he's not too busy tending the five fields spread over 40 acres near Interstate 5. Seven Oaks does spray some pesticides because worms turn off more customers than competition from organic farmers.

A major threat to fresh corn is overcooking, Mefford and Bradshaw say. Both encourage customers to barely blanch corn on the cob. Otherwise, the kernels become tough.

"I recommend people only cook it 30 seconds to a minute — enough to heat it," Bradshaw says.

Or simply eat corn kernels raw, sliced from the cob and sprinkled over salads, as a garnish on a chilled soup or mixed into a soft cheese to create a mild, sweet-and-savory spread for toasted slices of baguette.

Unless she's freezing corn, Bradshaw doesn't even bother to slice raw kernels from the cob before consuming.

"Just peel it back and eat it."

Seven Oaks sells corn for 35 cents per ear. The country store, at 5504 Rogue Valley Highway, is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Fresh corn will keep, refrigerated, for four or five days. To store, strip off the husks, wrap the ears in moist paper towels, place them in a zip-close plastic bag and refrigerate.

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.

Lend me your ears