A festival where kernels are the major attraction is bound to put any corn lover on his ear. Or ears. Hundreds of hungry folks came to praise Zellwood corn _ widely acknowledged as the king of kernels _ at the fourth annual Corn Festival on Saturday.
Take the Rev. Neil Lacy of Faith United Methodist Church, for instance. He was raised 40 miles away from Zellwood, where his parents bought the vegetable by the crate. It was his idea to have the church sponsor the Corn Festival as a fund-raiser since 1988.
"When you eat some, you realize it's not like something you buy in the store," Lacy said. "Part of it is because it's fresh, but it's also just good corn.
"When you see a sign that says Plant City strawberries or Indian River fruit, that's the idea . . . this is Zellwood corn. It's where they grow the best corn, but you have to eat it to testify. People keep telling us it's the best they've ever eaten."
Visitors munched enough of the sweet, succulent corn to raise more than $2,000 to finance a new church kitchen. That total was supplemented by sales of craftworks, baked goods and raffle tickets. Musical entertainment and a volleyball tournament among local churches added to the playful, family atmosphere.
Activities began early Saturday when volunteers made the 200-mile round trip to Zellwood. About 1,700 ears of corn costing $265 were stocked, shucked and boiled for the celebration.
Last year the church purchased more than 8,000 ears and recruited neighboring churches to sell them. This year the demand for Zellwood corn is so great that farmers wouldn't let committee members cart away a bulk truckload as they did before. Wooden crates stuffed with corn were scattered around, waiting to be prepared.
Cooking procedures were as simple as the corn's country origins. Two metal drums were propped above propane gas flames and filled with water and large baskets of corn ears. Cooking time took 12 to 15 minutes without any secret recipe or ingredients, according to cook George Walters.
"No additives, no preservatives," Walters said. "Just boiling water and the corn, that's all."
A survey of Corn Festival visitors was a landslide victory for Zellwood corn, although few could explain why.
"I don't know why, but this corn is something else," Martha May of Hudson said after eating her third serving. "I've bought corn in stores that they say is sweet, but it can never come up to this."
One young corn customer offered her reasons _ and a bit of corny trivia.
"Because I like it and it has butter on it," 6-year-old Danielle Pappas said, pointing to a kernel on her cob. "Did you know that this is a seed? I heard that in preschool."
Even those not as well-educated about corn's virtues praised the taste and texture of Zellwood corn.
"Have you had any complaints yet?" Hudson resident Beverly Dunn asked, without a pause for an answer. "Well, you're not going to get any, either. Not about this corn."
After such glowing praise, it was time for a personal taste test. Two robust ears _ one yellow, one white _ were served by friendly food-line hosts.
After one aromatic sniff, I was tempted to use the typewriter technique of rapid end-to-end chomping. The first crunchy nibble was so tasty, however, that I took my time with each ear. Both varieties were cooked to perfection so that kernels popped cleanly away from the cob with every bite.
Was this heaven? No, it wasn't even Iowa..