Of Sweet Kernels And Nosy Old Ladies

Of all the markets I enjoy going to, the Ranch Market — catering mainly to the latino community — is one of my favorites.

Terrific, crisp produce (and often boasting a host of different items you wouldn’t necessarily find in a regular grocery store), a nifty meat department with fresh-made chicharrones, several varieties of ceviche and more, pan dulce of all shapes and sizes, fresh baked pies and cakes, hunks of flan and more.

I was on a mission to get a few things to make corn salad that day, corn being the main order of the day. (It’s rather difficult to make corn salad without corn, y’unnerstan’ …) Tomatoes, cilantro and avocados were on the list as well.

Eying the corn as I made my way into the produce department, I went over and began picking out nice, large ears and shucking a portion of the husk to spy their freshness (of which I had little doubt).

Of a sudden, a hand touched my right shoulder. I looked and saw a diminutive old lady looking up at me.

“You better watch out for that,” she warned me. “They put the old stuff on the top, there … see? I’m not sure it’s really that fresh …”

I smiled at her. “Oh, the stuff I’m picking out is fresh all right. It’s super fresh as a matter of fact.” I reached for another ear and pulled part of the husk back to show her. She watched me as I did so.

“But … how do you know it’s really fresh?” she asked.

I pulled yet another from the bunch and repeated the process. “See? Clean and firm and ready to go. I can do this all day long,” I told her.

“But … how do you know it’s really fresh?” she asked again. She stuck her finger at the kernels to poke them and feel them. “They’re too hard” she tried reasoning.

“No … with white corn, the firmness assures freshness,” I told her. As I waved the ear of corn at the others I stated pointedly “I guarantee you this stuff is rockin’ and top notch …”

“Yes, but … how do you know? How do you really know for sure?” It was evident I held her attention and she was interested in what I had to say but I could tell she was doubtful. You could see in her eyes she wanted to believe me but there was skepticism there.

I squinched down to her level and looked right at her. Then, I looked to her right down the aisle past her. Then I looked left, away from her. I again came back to her questioning eyes and whispered to her “This is how I know … don’t tell anyone. It’ll be our secret” I confided.

I grabbed the ear I was holding with both hands and took a gaping bite out of it with exaggerated florish right in front of her. “Oh, man … THAT’S sweet stuff. Perfect!” I offered joyously. I know I had juice dribbling down my chin. I smiled at her toothily.

The surprise in her eyes made me wish I had had my camera right then and there. She gaped open-mouthed and began smiling at me herself. She raised her hand as if she was going to swat me, began laughing and shooshed me away while she made tracks down the aisle, chuckling all the way.

I’m certain she kept an eye on me while I continued picking out corn. You know … to make sure I didn’t put the one I took a bite out of back in the lot …

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