How to Harvest and Preserve Corn Successfully

You’ve planted the corn. You watered, you fertilized, you waited.

You wish someone would give you some tips on how to tell if the corn is ready to harvest.

And how do you get the corn from ear to freezer? Does anyone have a simple way to do that?

You’ve come to the right place!

Preserving Corn is easy. This old gardener has learned a few tricks that will ensure success.

This is a thorough tutorial about every step to do in order to successfully harvest, prepare and preserve your corn.

How to tell when corn is ready to harvest

There’s nothing more disappointing than to have your taste buds ready for fresh picked corn only to bite into a tough, chewy ear of corn. Or. The corn seems to be “thin” and tasteless.  Knowing when to pick the corn is not hard once you know what to look for. 

This ear of corn is not ready to harvest.

Don’t be shy about peeking at the inside of a few ears of corn.

This ear is not ready.

It is still nestled against the stalk. It may have “green corn” and can be eaten for your enjoyment. But, you may want to give it a few more days to mature.

(That’s a pumpkin leaf in the lower half of this image. They like each other!)

The ears won’t mind if you peel back part of the husk gently and gently cover up the naked kernels again.

When you learn what a full ear of corn looks like from the outside, you’ll instinctively know when to pick the corn in your future garden. You’ll learn to tell simply by watching for the corn to “stand away” from the stalk. But, just to calm your trepidations and peek at their lovely kernels anyway! 

This ear of corn is ready to harvest.

This ear has leaned away from the stalk. It’s ready to pick.

 

Don’t make the mistake of waiting too long.

It won’t help your dinner table to hope for larger kernels. Remember, corn is a seed and the plant really wants to reproduce itself. That kernel will become starchy as it matures toward full fertility! And, it will make a tough skin as it dries up. A mouth full of chewy, tough corn is not fun.

Use your thumbnail!

One way to make sure the corn is just right is to pierce one of the kernels you uncovered with your thumbnail. If it spurts, it’s ready. If it “dents”, well, you waited too long. Sometimes, depending on where the plant stands in your block of plants, the top part of the corn may have not been fertilized by the tassels, so you will need to gently peel the corn back farther from the top to see if there are kernels lower on the ear. 

Not all ears are created equal!

Don’t be alarmed if some of your corn is not perfect. You may be used to seeing what has been deemed “good enough” for the grocery store. There will be imperfections in a home garden. But, in the end, it all tastes good. If you want to impress your family, and if you are a really generous person, set the perfect ears to the side for your prize show of corn on the cob. 

For just a little

A garden journal is exactly what you need to keep track of what worked and what didn’t. All this is done for you! For just a little, you can get a printable document that’s got you covered from your seed wish list to your harvest records. There are 39 pages of charts, record keeping, garden map grids, and lots of pages for your garden journaling about the garden in general as well as the individual veggies and fruit that you are growing. It’s only $4.99! You can find out more details and order it here and get started right away. (A digital version is also available in the shop.)

Here’s how-to pick, prepare, and preserve your corn.

This is an example of an ear of corn that is ready to harvest.

Take a close look. The ear looks upright. See how far away from the stalk it is?

This ear is ready to pick.

How to Pick Corn

Once you determine that it’s time to harvest your corn, it’s pretty hard to mess up the picking process. It’s really easy. Grasp the ear of corn and give it a quick twist downward. DO NOT REMOVE THE STEM. You’ll see why-it’s an old gardener’s trick that will make the next jobs easier. 

Shuck in the garden

I shuck the corn right there in the garden, allowing the husks to drop to the ground, providing a bit of cover for the ground that will soon be bare. I pull back as much of the silk as I quickly can and gently toss the corn into a bucket. A large pot or even a roasting pan will do. The next step is to remove as much silk as possible. DON”T WASH THE CORN YET.

How to easily remove the silk

ear of corn with stem still on and a medium stiff brush

It’s silk party time! Recruit as many people as you can for this job! It makes a happy family tradition.

Purchase a cheap kitchen brush. Test the bristles for the best brush. A very stiff brush will puncture and bruise the corn. A soft brush will not get the job done. Be sure to get a brush with a handle that is comfortable to grasp, preferably one that the handle is 6 to 8 inches long.

Now, you’ll see why it’s best to not remove the stem.

Hold the corn by the stem and brush the corn lightly, back and forth as you rotate the ear. Most of the silk will easily come off at this point. Any silk left in the cracks that only floss could get out can be picked out after you cut the kernels off the corn. Place the brushed corn is another pot, pan, bucket-whatever you have on hand. 

Now you can wash the corn! BUT. DO NOT REMOVE THE STEM YET.

How to prepare the corn

Note: For frozen corn on the cob, please refer to another site. I don’t like frozen corn on the cob so my family has to suffer! Seriously, I only know that it is imperative to cook the corn all the way through but I don’t know how many minutes, etc. I am sure you will still need cold water to plunge them in after the thorough boiling. 

How to cut corn to make creamed corn.

Now you will really appreciate that stem you left on! Remove everything from your counter except the corn, a sharp short knife, a 13X9 pan, and a microwave-safe bowl and it’s the lid. The ideal size is one that holds 1.5 quarts.

Why clear the counter?

Well, cornstarch juice was used to make glue way back, way back! You don’t want to have to wash anything more than your counter and the items you will be using, right? Spattered corn juice is like spilled milk. It gets in places you never dreamed it could. 

Hold the corn in a vertical position.

Hold the corn in an upright position, pointing the corn downward as you hold your stem as a handle. Now you can slice the corn in a downward slice so that the kernels will fall into the 13X9 pan.

Once the kernels have been sliced off, turn your knife around to the dull side and go around that ear once more, while holding the knife perpendicular to the ear, scraping the last of the corn juice off and into the pan alongside the kernels you just cut off. 

Now if you want the thrill of snapping off the stem, by all means!

But, it’s really not necessary. But, don’t throw the cob away. Add it to your compost pile and be sure to cover your pile of cobs with dirt or you will draw flies and other critters that love corn. Or, if you have chickens, give them some. They will love you for it. 

Two methods of preserving explained

Your choice: Freeze or “can” in jars

I froze my corn for years. I never considered canning for corn. I did not think that canned corn could match the taste of fresh frozen corn. As of today, the summer of 2021, I am now a fan of canned corn. This is the first year I put corn up into jars and I am extremely pleased. I don’t have to worry about a power outage that would ruin frozen corn.

First, the freezer method, then the unconventional canning method.

Prepare corn for the freezer by cooking it first.

CORN MUST BE COOKED BEFORE FREEZING OR CANNING. I ruined my corn one time by following someone’s “easy” instructions by putting the ears directly into the freezer in a pillow case. Hey, don’t judge! That’s what they said, so I did it. If it was easy, I was all in. BAD ADVICE! Corn needs the enzymes to be killed thoroughly by heat first. I lost ALL my corn that year. It spoiled, even in the freezer!

Stovetop Cooking

If you are not comfortable with using a microwave, you will need to add water to the corn in a heavy pot and cook on the stovetop. Bring to a low boil on medium, stirring very frequently, until the corn is at a boil that can’t be stirred down. Corn can scorch easily, so this method requires constant monitoring. 

Microwave Instructions

Remember, the size of the bowl is important. Every kernel needs to be heated through thoroughly. A bowl that’s too large can cause uneven cooking, part of the corn can be overcooked while some may not be heated enough.

I put about 4 cups of corn into a 1.5 quart pyrex bowl. If the corn seems dry, add ¼-½ cup water to the corn. For my microwave, this size bowl needs about 4 minutes, pause, stir, and 4 more minutes to assure that all the corn was truly cooked.

The top of the corn in the bowl will have a layer of cooked corn tenders on top. That way you know it boiled while it was in the microwave. Your time could vary depending on your microwave. Don’t overcook but do look for that evidence that it did boil. 

WARNING!

Corn must be cooled to room temperature before placing in the freezer.

Fill a sink with cold water while the corn is cooking so it will be ready when the corn is cooked. If you are sure the corn has cooked thoroughly, fill your freezer container with the hot corn. Seal and place directly into the cold water.  I used freezer quality Ziploc bags for years but they leak when the contents are thawed. I DO NOT recommend the slider type bags as they don’t hold up as well. The quart-sized holds up to 4 cups. If you stuff the bags that full, just be sure to check that you have cooled them through to the middle.

I often change the water when it gets to lukewarm. Dry them off and write what’s in the bag and date it. I use Sharpies for this. Note: I think I remember that you don’t want corn to be more than a year old. Not sure if this is correct, but it’s always a good idea to date it anyway just in case you harvest more next year before this year’s supply is gone. 

Storage Container for the Freezer

I prefer non-bpa reusable freezer containers. I found some great ones here. (I will soon be ready to be an affiliate with suppliers but not yet!) I love this supplier because they cater to those who want things as natural as possible. Follow the instructions I just gave for the freezer bags, making sure the contents have cooled to no warmer than room temperature.

I use the pint-size because I am cooking for only two of us now. One pint gives us about four servings. Dry the tops and add labels. You can find labels that work just fine in the office section of Wal-mart for really cheap. 

How to put them in the freezer. Not joking!

Seriously. I mean it. You aren’t home free yet! You MUST spread the bags or containers out, knowing you can stack them later. The goal at this point is to freeze as quickly as possible. I spread them in a layer in my chest freezer and then take over the surface area in the kitchen fridge freezer. Once they are frozen, then stack them. 

Canning corn

Follow all the instructions for freezing corn. Harvest, shuck, cut the kernels off, and heat to boiling. The corn must be cooked to the point that you would serve it as a cooked vegetable. There is an enzyme in veggies that must be “killed” so that your food won’t spoil. That is the key to success. But first, prepare your canning equipment.

No Water Bath Processing

You will need a genuine “canner” for the next steps. I tried water bath processing. It worked for some jars, others actually spoiled. I work too hard to loose the harvest at that point, don’t you?

Canner Instructions

The jars

Fill your empty, very clean CANNING jars with the hottest tap water. The jars must be heavy duty canning jars. Regular jars from pickles or spaghetti sauce will not stand up to the pressure you are about to put them in. After you have thoroughly cooked the corn, empty the water out of the jar. Then fill immediately with hot, cooked corn. Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean cloth. Put the lid on and screw on the ring to a snug feel. After you have filled your jars, use canning tongs to grip your jars. Place the filled and lidded jars into your canner. Fill the canner with water to halfway up the jars of corn. Place the canner seal and lid on the pot and shift the lid to seal the pot. Place the weight on the little spout that is designed to hold it to 10 pounds.

Process the corn

Turn the burner on high and wait for the jiggler to jiggle. It can take a while, depending on how full you packed the pot. Once the jiggler jiggles, let it stay at that pressure. Pints need to be pressure cooked for 55 minutes, quarts for 70. If you “creamed” your corn (i.e. scraping the bit next to the cobb off too) then you need 20 more minutes.

Remove the jars with your canning tongs and place them on a cooling rack. You will soon hear the lids “ping” or “pop”. That is GOOD! That means that they have sealed and a vacuum has formed. When the jars have cooled, remove the rings and check the lids to be sure they have all “popped” to a concave seal. You can actually press on them to make sure they are tight. If not, get that jar in the fridge right away. Use the corn very soon and do cook it thoroughly again. Don’t forget to label the food with a date.

Now you know how to harvest and preserve your corn!

You did it! You learned when to harvest your corn. Remember to cook your corn thoroughly in order to prepare it for the freezer. I think you’ll agree-preserving your own corn is easy.

Green beans are even easier to can

Guess what! You don’t even have to cook green beans before canning them. You can find out just how easy it is to can green beans with my thorough tutorial, How to Harvest and Preserve Green beans.

Don’t forget to subscribe for more tips from an old gardener!

A photo of the author, Deborah Schreffler

Debbie Schreffler

Veteran Homeschooler, avid gardener, and proud grandma

I believe that you can design a peaceful lifestyle while you homeschool, complete with a garden if you want, and meals that will make the best memories you ever could imagine!

I homeschooled seven kids through high school, starting them all with a lot of planned, hands-on activities. Then, I centered the subjects around the activities. That gave them lots of room for their natural curiosity to be satisfied as they learned about God’s world.

Let me help you teach kids, grow food, and stay calm!

Debbie

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.Mat 6:33 CSB

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