When Life Gives You Cobs…

ingredients for corn cob lemonade

Corn Cob Lemonade, the Essence of Summer

Fresh summer corn occupies a very special place in my heart and kitchen. If summer in the Northeast is an embarrassment of ingredient riches, then sweet, fresh, peak-season corn is the Fabergé egg of the bounty. By Labor Day, I’ll have OD’d on tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplant, but I never tire of the complex sweetness of fresh, buttery corn. 

And anyone who’s spent time working in seasonally driven restaurants during the height of summer knows the joys of cooking with this corn. It gets steamed whole on the cob, charred in its husks, cut raw from the cob and sautéed, puréed, or roasted. Basically, most cooking techniques can be applied to corn and I’ve yet to find one that I don’t love. One inevitability of all this corn cookery are piles of cobs, silks, and husks. And while we covet those sweet kernels, we often forget the lingering flavor left in the parts that don’t get served and eaten. Yes, we make corn stock, but what else?

Some years ago, in the kitchen of Blue Hill Restaurant, staring down a mountain of these fresh corn “scraps,” I stopped a young bartender who was about to compost lemon peels left over from juicing a case of lemons. Strangely, in this moment, inspiration struck, and a vision of a classic summer barbecue spread came to mind: burgers, potato salad, grilled veggies, corn on the cob, and pitchers of ice-cold lemonade. I mean, what’s more summer than that? Wait a second—corn and lemonade?

Thus was born Corn Cob Lemonade, made with corn and lemon discards with a touch of honey and lemony herbs—a seemingly bizarre mashup of two ingredients that combine to create, in my mind, the very essence of summer. Sweet, bracing, and vaguely familiar, but not quite.

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Corn Cob Lemonade

Makes 6 servings

4–5 fresh corn cobs

3-inch piece lemongrass, smashed

5 sprigs lemon thyme

2 lemons, juiced, peels reserved

¼-⅓ cup honey, to taste

Mint leaves for garnish

In a large pot, combine cobs, lemongrass, and lemon thyme with 2 quarts of water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice, peels, and honey. Stir well and allow mixture to infuse for 10 minutes. Strain the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve and chill. Compost the solids. Pour over ice and garnish with a few bruised mint leaves.

Feature photo by Mark Weinberg

Adam Kaye co-founder and chief culinary director of The Spare Food Co., former chief culinary officer of Blue Hill and Blue Hill at Stone Barns 

Mark Weinberg photographer of several bestselling books about food, including Dorie Greenspan’s Baking with Dorie: Sweet, Salty & Simple