On the cob, dipped in butter and sprinkled with salt, roasted sweet corn is a tasty summertime Long Island tradition.
And at the Harbes Family Farm & Vineyard in Mattituck, where the sweet corn crop will be celebrated with an annual festival this weekend, that's a lot of summers spent husking, roasting and munching kernels. They've been growing corn for 12 generations.
"One of my ancestors came over from England in 1600 and was reputed to have the first farm in Jamaica, Queens," says farm-owner Ed Harbes III of Mattituck. "We were among the first to grow the supersweet-type corn." Dressed as "Farmer Harbes," he will be leading hay rides at the festival.
LEND AN EAR: BIG HARVEST
Waving fields of corn are a common sight on the East End, one of New York State's major agricultural areas. Joseph M. Gergela III, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau, says the demand for Long Island corn is high -- over 1,000 acres of corn were planted this year in Suffolk County. "It's a major commodity on the East End," he says, explaining that Harbes planted 70 acres at farms in Jamesport and Riverhead.
Ed Harbes IV, Harbes' son, who oversees the corn crop, says his newer "green" methods increase the health of the soil and require less chemicals and fertilizer. "I have been introducing newer, more progressive techniques on family farm," he says.
Monica Harbes, Ed's wife, says all the corn served at the festival, as well as at their farm stands in Mattituck and Jamesport, was grown locally by them. And don't worry, they won't run out on festival day. The fields are expected to yield about 1.75 million ears this season.
Heat is good for the corn crop, so this year's ears are expected to be especially sweet. "It's been a nice, warm season with plenty of sun, especially this last month or so, and that's perfect for sweet corn," says Ed III. "The sunlight helps the plants produce the maximum amount of sugars."
Gergela agrees. "You won't even need butter, salt and pepper, it's so tasty," he says.
At the festival, the corn will be machine-roasted and -- if you wish -- served dripping with real melted butter for about $2.95 per ear.
WHILE YOU'RE THERE
Harbes is one of the North Fork's "agritainment" centers, combining family activities such as hay rides and corn mazes with sales of flowers and produce such as corn, tomatoes and, in the fall, pumpkins.
On festival day, festivalgoers can enter the Barnyard Adventures area to meet baby farm animals or play in a hedge maze. Jamie Davis of Southold, as "Farmer Fred," will emcee tug-of-war, hopscotch and potato sack events, as well as pig races. An all-day corn-eating contest also will take place.
In addition to the games and good eating, you can expect some country wisdom -- and foolishness.
"Farmer Fred does most of the corny jokes, I try to give the education and history, and what it's like to be a farmer," Ed III says.
An example of the humor from Ed III: "All the farmers say to the cornfield, 'Lend me your ears,' but that's a little too corny."
Sweet Corn Festival
WHEN | WHERE 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Harbes Family Farm & Vineyard, Mattituck
INFO 631-298-0800, harbesfamilyfarm.com
ADMISSION $9.95 Barnyard Adventures (hay ride, pig and sack races and other activities); $4 hay ride only; free for farm stand.