Hi, guys! Winnie’s hubby here again.
As my first post (“…enter, and sign in please”) made abundantly clear, there’s virtually nothing I can tell my wife about cooking. She’s always the one who comes up with the fabulous recipes, whether it’s something her Mom used to make, something from the bookcase full of well-loved cookbooks in our living room, or something we spot on the Cooking Channel / Food Network that strikes our fancy and we print from their respective websites.
However, as the old Southern expression goes, even a blind pig finds an acorn now and then, and there was one instance where I was able to show her something when it comes to cooking. Alas, I can’t take all the credit: that goes to one of my favorite literary detectives – the 286-pound orchid fancier and gourmand, Nero Wolfe.
For those who aren’t avid mystery readers, or who (like Winnie) only have vague recollections of the 1980s TV show with William Conrad as Wolfe and Lee Horsley as his assistant, legman and amenuensis Archie Goodwin, let me briefly acquaint you with Mister Wolfe. He lives in a brownstone on West Thirty-fifth Street in Manhattan, the number of which Archie, and his “literary agent,” Rex Stout, are intentionally vague about (one account, which Wolfe actually testifies to in court [in “The Next Witness”], has him at 918 West 35th, which as any New Yorker can tell you would put Wolfe’s house in the middle of the Hudson River) in order to deter curious sightseers. Wolfe rarely leaves the house, which is why Archie does most of the investigating and reports back to Wolfe – and to us. The brownstone has a greenhouse on the roof, where Wolfe tends to his beloved orchids with Theodore Horstmann, and a kitchen where he and chef/major domo Fritz Brenner create their daily culinary masterpieces (no doubt why Wolfe weighs in at a seventh of a ton). And they are droolworthy. Stout even helped create a cookbook full of recipes based on the dishes mentioned in the books.
It’s one of the dishes in one of the short stories that allowed me to wow my wife in the kitchen. Not the eggs au beurre noir or shad roe aux fines herbes, not even the corned beef hash (with pig chitlins!), but something more basic (and more suited to my abilities): that staple of the summer, corn on the cob.
Here’s the exchange between Wolfe and Inspector Cramer, the head of the Homicide Bureau, from the short story “Murder is Corny”:
“Do you eat sweet corn?”
“Yes. You’re stalling.”
“No. Who cooks it?”
“My wife. I haven’t got a Fritz.”
“Does she cook it in water?”
“Sure. Is yours cooked in beer?” (Wolfe also drinks beer. Lots and lots of it. – Hubby)
“No. Millions of American women, and some men, commit that outrage every summer day. They are turning a superb treat into mere provender. Shucked and boiled in water, sweet corn is edible and nutritious; roasted in the husk in the hottest possible oven for forty minutes, shucked at the table, and buttered and salted, nothing else, it is ambrosia. No chef’s ingenuity and imagination have ever created a finer dish.”
You can find the story in the book Trio for Blunt Instruments.
My Dad (who introduced me to the novels when I started watching the aforementioned ‘80s TV show) and I played around briefly and found the ideal temperature for the oven to be 375° F, for the forty minutes Wolfe indicated. All you have to do is preheat the oven, leave the corn in the husks but cut the excess silk off the end, and put it in the oven. We butter and pepper it rather than salt it. That’s it.
Winnie was skeptical. She and her Mom, along with those “millions of American women, and some men,” always boiled their corn on the cob. She was afraid the corn would catch on fire and burn the house down. She was more afraid it wouldn’t taste good, and that cooking it for so long would dry it out.
To my great delight, and her surprise, she found Wolfe’s description of “ambrosia” to be an understatement - crisp yet succulent, and cooked to perfection. Now we don’t have corn on the cob any other way.
Give it a try. Trust me, it is ambrosia – food for the gods.
Now if I can only find Wolfe’s house to thank him …