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Garden swaps expand seasonal possibilities

Swapping surplus foods with family and friends is yet another perk of eating with the seasons.

August started with precious little produce to spare. But before the month was out, I had put up 40 pounds of peaches with help from my mother-in-law. We canned not only sliced fruit and jam but some sweet-sour chutneys to bestow as Christmas gifts.

One jar found its way home with friends after they brought us — surprise! — two-dozen peaches the day after my 10-hour canning marathon. Fortunately, they also came bearing a half-dozen ears of corn from their parents' garden, along with a couple of crookneck squashes and a red onion, both vegetables that we didn't grow.

Astoundingly, the zucchini in this prolific garden had failed, and green beans weren't on the radar. So our two most abundant crops to date (and that jar of chutney) were a fair trade for the Lopez family.

When it's free, corn tastes even sweeter. Citing its need for too much space and too many nutrients, my mother-in-law hasn't planted corn for years. It isn't such a sacrifice because Seven Oaks Farm, which perfected corn cultivation over the past three decades, is a short drive away. While we're there, we also buy melons and winter squash, also too sprawling to install in our half-dozen raised beds.

But our apathy shouldn't discourage more ambitious gardeners. Shorter-stalked varieties, such as Golden Midget, Earlivee and Quickie, are suited to backyard plots, according to Associated Press writer Lee Reich. However, the flavor of these early-maturing varieties aren't as "corny" as Honey & Cream, Bodacious or Golden Bantam, he adds.

Seeding corn in 3-inch pots and leaving plants to develop there for up to a month frees garden beds for short-season crops, such as radishes, spring onions or lettuce, says Reich. Closely planted, corn has better chances of pollination, hence the practice of planting three or four plants in a "hill" spaced 2 feet from the next.

Given moist, rich, high-nitrogen soil, six hours of sunlight daily and about an inch of water per week, each square foot planted in corn should yield one ear that's ready to pick two to three months after planting, says Reich. Ripe ears look and feel full, and their silks are brown but not brittle.

Or pick out an ear at Seven Oaks for 39 cents, a dozen for $4.10. The farm on Central Point's Rogue Valley Highway will have corn through the middle of October.

Our friends' generosity benefitted an even wider circle. For a party kicking off college football season, I made my husband's favorite fresh corn salad — appropriately themed yellow and green — with the barely blanched kernels, chunks of zucchini and crookneck squash, a variety of minced, roasted chilies, grated lime zest, sliced green onions and just a bit of diced tomato to make the mixture visually pop. Cotija or feta cheese can be added, if desired.

The secret to this salad is a dressing made with lime juice, rice-wine vinegar, garlic, cumin and Asian-style sweet-chili sauce. Usually not a fan of the last ingredient in that list, I added it on a whim last year and realized that it really brings out the corn's sweetness while tempering the sourness of citrus.

A version of the recipe, using fingerling potatoes instead of summer squash, can be found with the Oct. 5, 2010, post to my blog, The Whole Dish. Or try this similar salad with a Cajun — instead of Asian — twist, as well as sauteed shrimp, which elevate it to an entree.

Reach Mail Tribune Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email slemon@mailtribune.com. Read her blog, The Whole Dish, at www.mailtribune.com/wholedish, see her Facebook page or follow thewholedish on Twitter.

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