Growing Sweetcorn

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Corn on the cob is at its best right now. We visited Barfoots farm in West Sussex to find out how this golden wonder grows.

Barfoots, an award-winning family farm business near Bognor Regis in West Sussex, has been supplying Tesco with sweetcorn for more than 20 years. Founded in 1976 by Peter Barfoot, it now employs more than 200 people, and farms on around 5,000 acres. Peter’s son, Jon Barfoot, has worked with his father since 2002 and is now commercial director. He explains what makes Barfoots sweetcorn so good.

fieldsofgold squareThe south coast is the perfect place to grow this crop as sweetcorn needs lots of sunshine to thrive, and the weather is often better here.

We sow the fields from mid-April and continue into May. The seeds are covered with plastic to protect them from the wind and birds, and when the plants are established the coverings come off.

Harvesting starts around 90 days later, from the end of July through to October. At Barfoots, we’ve made a huge investment in our automated machinery to make sure harvesting is as energy efficient as possible. Each machine selects, picks and grades the cobs as it goes along the fields. 

We pick from four o’clock in the morning because it’s cooler then, and the sweetcorn needs to be cool for transportation and packing. If we were to harvest later in the day, it would take twice as long to cool the corn down. So it’s more environmentally friendly and energy efficient to work from dawn and finish in the afternoon. 

The corn goes straight to our prepping and packing plant in Chichester, which is less than 30 minutes’ drive away. Having the plant so close helps keep the sweetcorn really fresh. Tesco customers like uniform quality, so we invented an efficient de-husking process that also cores the cob. Others prefer loose corn, just as it comes from the field, with the husk leaves still on (we call this ‘green’ corn).

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My favourite way to enjoy sweetcorn is to give it a bit of theatre on the barbecue. I throw it on, still wrapped in its leaves, turning it occasionally until the kernels steam and go tender inside. The leaves char and sometimes smoulder and flare slightly but, if you can hold your nerve, you will end up with perfection on a plate – it’s delicious.

I also really like Mexican elotes. This is corn on the cob served with a mayonnaise and chilli topping with a twist of lime juice. It’s a popular street food in Mexico and really flavoursome. 

Today’s supersweet varieties only have to be lightly steamed, so don’t confuse them with the tougher corn varieties you may have had back in the 1980s, which needed a lot more cooking. 

In its natural state, sweetcorn is a great addition to a balanced diet. Sometimes we don’t even add butter, as our varieties are delicious enough on their own. When I serve it this way to guests, they ask, ‘What have you added?’ They’re always so surprised when I say, ‘Nothing – it’s all natural!’

Want to know more? Watch our sweetcorn video and then try one of our delicious sweetcorn recipes, including the Mexican elotes Jon mentioned. 

As featured in Tesco Magazine September 2013.OM Sep 13 Cover

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