Only 3,500 acres of Brentwood farmland are devoted to maize, but the city’s famed supersweet corn, which stays crisp and sugary long after it is picked, is practically trademarked. For twelve years, the city has celebrated the early harvest of Brentwood corn with CornFest, which has ballooned from a cluster of farm stands into a weekend-long country fair that shuts down the town center.
This year’s fest took place July 9 through 11. By noon on Saturday, long lines snaked around the stalls selling sausage links, funnel cakes, two-foot-tall lemonade glasses, and of course roasted corn — brushed with chile sauce, lime juice, sour cream, or butter.
Although the corn-eating competition, which takes place every two hours, is open to people of all ages, none of the contestants in the three o’clock heat had finished elementary school. Lined up in front of the central stage, they were given three minutes to eat as much as they could. Three minutes doesn’t seem like much, but when you’re watching children devouring a third of their body weight in vegetable matter, time slows to a crawl.
Half of the contestants used the typewriter-like “slide” technique, the other half Brentwood’s own “spinning” technique. Despite the announcer’s warning against speed-spitting, I spotted a couple of kids emptying their chipmunk cheeks into the bowl as they gnawed. The winner was ten-year-old Cameron with eight cobs, his face a mask of crushed kernels. The CornFest record is thirteen — that morning one guy had finished fifteen ears, the announcer told us, but since he hadn’t completely cleaned his cobs he was docked a few ears.
Ninety minutes later, I got my chance to compete in the corn-shucking contest. On the stage a band called Public Eye segued from a headbanger version of the national anthem into “Play That Funky Music, White Boy” as a dozen of us settled on hay bales around cases of corn. My opponents: one teenage boy, two women in their sixties, my friend Denise, and a bunch of six-to-eight-year-olds.
Our monitors, the Liberty High School varsity volleyball team, screamed “Go!” and we began to grab ears, ripping off the husks, cracking off the stalk, and dropping the cleaned ears into our baskets.
The bucktoothed seven-year-old in front of me was too excited to sit down. Arms in a blur, he flailed at his corn, but couldn’t yank more than a leaf off with each rip. “Why don’t you hold it between your legs and pull?” I said to him, demonstrating my technique. “Thanks!” he yelled, and went back to windmilling.
Three minutes later, we lined up with our baskets. Russell, the sixteen-year-old football player who had attacked his corn like it was sporting enemy colors, won the heat with 28 ears. My friend Denise took second, and nineteen ears earned me third place — and a corncob wrapped with a yellow ribbon.
One of the monitors offered me some consolation. “That’s the cleanest corn I’ve seen all day,” she said. “Thanks,” I told her. “I’m from Indiana.”