(Updated 09/03/2016 for recipe clarification)
My hometown of Chilliwack, British Columbia, is a place of breathtaking natural beauty. With multiple salmon-teeming rivers running through, and imposingly-grand mountains all around, its motto is fittingly “The Green Heart of the Province”. Unfortunately, if you ask those outside of my community – especially those in Metro Vancouver – they’re more likely to suggest it be called “The Brown Heart”. There is a price to pay for living in a place with rich fertile fields prime for agriculture, and that price is manure.
Yes, it’s true: my hometown often reeks of some rather unfortunate smells. That’s the polite way of putting it, but believe me, people aren’t always polite; as much as the produce grows around here, so does the thick skin. So yeah, my hometown isn’t always regarded in the greatest light by those nearer to the Pacific than us (namely, those from Metro Vancouver). In fact, it’s often joked that you know you’ve reached Chilliwack once you have to roll up your car windows.
The joke is on all of them, though, once corn season rolls around. No matter where you are in Greater Vancouver, once corn season hits, this smelly agricultural community is the star. Everywhere you go, “Chilliwack Corn” is being advertised. It’s the hot commodity, not found in stores, but on street corners where venders set up stands selling cobs by the dozen. Restaurants will offer it up as the star ingredient in their dishes, proudly displaying that it came from Chilliwack. They could simply call it “local”, but they don’t. When it comes to corn in the summertime, being local isn’t enough – it has to come from one place, and once place alone: The Wack.
Being from this community (and currently back here for the time being), I’m compensated for my nasal discomfort by little green and yellow barns filled with corn that’s been fresh-picked daily. For a large majority of the summer, these corn-selling barns (as well as trailers and truck beds) can be found all over town. Heck, there’s even competition between the growers (mainly the Joiners, Sparkes and Van Santen families), with loyalties won and lost by good and bad cobs. Personally, I grew up a in a Joiners family, though I’ve recently been buying Sparkes due to the proximity of one of their many barns to my house.
With all that being said, I think I did my hometown proud with this dish. I’ve never been much of one for corn chowder (in my heart, it’ll never win out over a good bowl of clam or crab chowder), and it ended up being much less creamy that I originally intended, but…it was absolutely delicious! As this is an entirely unique, did-not-adapt-from-anything-pre-existing recipe, I decided to make it twice this week, tweaking ingredients from the first to the second batch. Both batches turned out tasty, but the second one (with bacon, more potatoes, and less corn) had a better balance of sweetness and spice. That version – the final, delicious version – is posted below. Enjoy.
P.S. – Did I mention that the author of “Shoeless Joe Jackson”, W. P. Kinsella, used to live in Chilliwack, and still plays in a Scrabble league here? If that title doesn’t mean anything to you, how about “Field of Dreams” – you know, the Hollywood classic set in a corn field? So yeah, corn is sort of our thing.
P.P.S. – You really do get used to the smell after a while. I actually find it kind of comforting when I’ve been away from home for a while (like during my two years in Halifax) and I get a whiff of that familiar scent. Chicken manure on the other hand: yuck!
Fresh Chilliwack Corn Chowder
- 4 cobs of fresh corn, preferably from Chilliwack (or local)
- 500 g. golden nugget potatoes, cut in eighths
- 6 strips smoked bacon, diced
- 2 Italian sausages (hot or mild)
- 1 bell pepper, chopped
- 2 jalapeno peppers, diced (with seeds)
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 cup cream (I used 33% m.f.)
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 tbsp. coconut oil
- 1/2 tsp. cayenne
- 1/4 tsp. chipotle powder
- 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
- corn tortilla chips (optional)
- Shuck, wash, and then strip your corn cobs of their kernels. Place the kernels in a food processor, add the cup of cream, and process on high for 30-45 seconds. Set this mixture aside.
- Toss the bacon into a soup pot on medium heat and fry for about two minutes.
- Take your sausages, slice and peel away the casings, and then add them to the bacon in small pieces (think rounded teaspoon size, approximately). Continue to fry the meat until the sausage has brown and the bacon has turned slightly crispy. Remove to a bowl, reserving 1/3 of the leftover grease in the soup pot, and discarding the rest.
- While the bacon and sausage is frying, you should also be able to deal with the potatoes. Bring a large pot of lightly-salted water to boil, toss in the potatoes, and allow to cook for 6-8 minutes. Strain the water and cover the potatoes until they’re ready to be added to the soup.
- To the soup pot, add the coconut oil and allow it to heat up. Toss in the bell pepper, jalapenos and onion and sauté for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are soft. While they’re sautéing, add the chili pepper, chipotle and garlic seasonings and mix well to incorporate.
- Once the veggies are ready, pour in the cream/corn mixture, the milk, the water, and the meat, and bring it all to a boil. When the mixture is at a boil, toss in the potatoes, cover the lid, and turn the element down so the soup is at a simmer. (Alternately, for slightly softer potatoes, add them before bringing the soup to a boil.)
- Allow the soup to simmer for 10 minutes, then remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- The soup can be served on its own, or you can top it with crumbled corn tortilla chips.