As Ella Fitzgerald first crooned in George Gershwin’s 1934 song, “Summertime…and the livin’ is easy. Fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high…”.
She’s right, although we’re pretty sure if Ms. Fitzgerald had been here in South Dakota, she would’ve commented on the vast fields of corn that tower over her head.
CORN FUELS AND FEEDS US
Our state’s many acres of tall cornfields are an important part of a South Dakota summer. For one thing, their economic impact on our state helps make agriculture our state’s number one industry.
And no, we aren’t talking about the delicious sweet corn that we enjoy eating off the cob or out of a can. A full 99% of all corn grown in the U.S., including South Dakota, is field “dent” corn.
When this corn is harvested in South Dakota this fall, the bushels will primarily become gallons of biofuel, processed at one of our state’s 16 ethanol plants. It’s these blends of ethanol that we use to fill our vehicles so we can go on family vacations and shuttle the kids to and from their many activities.
Corn harvested from here also turns into animal feed, which then becomes quality protein sources for us to buy from the local butcher or grocery store. Whether that’s beef, chicken or pork, it’s hard to beat anything hot off the grill — burgers, bratwurst, hot dogs, chicken, ribs, pork chops or juicy steaks — they all seem to taste better when cooked outdoors over an open flame.
After all, July is National Grilling Month! It’s also National Hot Dog Month, National Ice Cream Month and National Picnic Month so celebrate accordingly! July truly is the essence of everything we love about enjoying food outside our kitchens and dining rooms.
THIRSTY SUMMER FOR CORN
We also tend to think of thunderstorms as part of summer’s rite of passage. In some areas, those classic summer thunderstorms have been hard to come by so far this year. In others, destructive winds and hail have ravaged crops and farm buildings.
While no one likes it to rain on their parade (literally or figuratively), parts of our state are suffering from drought yet, although it's not quite as severe as last year thankfully.
Just like you’ve had to water your flowers, garden or grass more frequently during this hot, dry summer, our state’s farmers and ranchers are also in need of more moisture for their fields. Yet they can’t just turn on the hose…they have to wait for blessings from Mother Nature.
While the lack of moisture has probably kept you from having to mow the lawn as often, it seriously impacts our farmers and ranchers who rely on timely moisture to feed growing crops and provide grassy pastures for cattle.
In fact, corn is currently in its thirstiest growth and development phase. As corn across the state finishes reaching its full height, it will then begin its reproductive phase when tassels emerge from the tops and the silks begin to form on the ears.
The nose knows. If you’re in the know with a knowledgeable nose,
you can even smell the corn pollinating this time of summer! (#iykyk)
DOG DAYS OF SUMMER ARE HERE
On the heels of our nation’s birthday and July 4th’s patriotic celebrations comes the soul of summer that is mid-July. You may have even heard them referred to as the “dog days of summer.”
Yet it has less to do with man’s best friend and more to do with the “Greater Dog” Canis Majoris constellation Sirius, the Dog Star, not the satellite radio, but the brightest star visible from any part of Earth.
Officially, the Dog Days of Summer are the period 20 days before and 20 days after the alignment of Sirius with the Sun, which is July 23, so July 3 to August 11.
In ancient Greece and Rome, the Dog Days were believed to be a time of drought, bad luck, and unrest, when dogs and men alike would be driven mad by the extreme heat, which was caused by the star and sun. The name Sirius even stems from Ancient Greek seírios, meaning “scorching.” To them, Sirius signaled a time when evil arrived, along with drought, disease, and discomfort. Sirius was described as a “bringer of drought and plague to frail mortals, rises and saddens the sky with sinister light” by the Roman poet Virgil.
However, for the ancient Egyptians, Sirius (known to them as Sothis) coincided the Nile River’s flood season, which they welcomed (and called Inundation) to help grow crops for survival. The star's rising before the sun became a “watchdog” for this necessary event. It was so pivotal for Egypt that they used the following moon as the start of their calendar.
Read what the The Old Farmers Almanac has to say about the dog days of summer:
TASTE THE SWEETNESS OF SUMMER
Summer is also about the food we fondly associate with these muggy Midwestern months — popsicles and ice cream, watermelon and sweet corn on the cob. And if you have little ones, it’s the sticky fingers and buttery cheeks that come after enjoying such summery treats.
It will soon be sweet corn season here in South Dakota. Pickup truck loads of freshly picked ears will start to pop up across the state. Locally grown sweet corn will always trump anything found in the grocery store. Take advantage of our state’s bounty by finding a farmers’ market or sweet corn stand in your area. Ask around…it’s usually not a secret!
Other than picking it yourself right from a sweet corn patch, it’s best to grab your dozen ears earlier in the day and eat it as soon as possible (same day) so you get the best fresh-from-the-field flavor.
We won’t get into the best way to cook it, as that’s a battle for the ages and every family has their special secrets. Whether you boil it on the stove, grill it in the husk, microwave it or even try cooking it in an air fryer, many sweet-corn connoisseurs insist it tastes better when eaten right from the cob. (In other words, don’t cut it off unless a teen with braces requires it to protect the expensive dental work.)
“Summer has a flavor like no other. Always fresh and simmered in sunshine.” – Oprah
RELAX AND RELISH THE REWARD
Many Midwesterners believe that summer is our well-earned reward for enduring another harsh winter with its sub-zero wind chills, ice storms, blizzards and endless gray days.
"‘Cause a little bit of summer is what the whole year is about.” – John Mayer
That may be true because summer has a certain special je ne sais quoi, a French phrase that translates into “I don’t know what.” It essentially means “a quality that can’t be easily described or named,” and that’s pretty accurate. We wish we could bottle up some of summer’s best to save for our sun-shortened winter season.
Summertime can be a bit of a blur of ball games busyness but is often balanced by backyard barbecues and bonfires. We like to think summer offers us a more-relaxed pace, despite the countless ball games, camps, VBS, and swim lessons the kids attend instead of school.
For many, childhood summers are all about lazy days of riding bikes and taking hikes, splashing in the sprinkler, and swimming and fishing at the lake, creek or river. These fun activities are sure to entertain kids who live in our cities, small towns or even on rural farms and ranches.
Summer is the smell of sunscreen, bug spray, charcoal grills and fireworks. That fresh scent after a much-needed rain and the smell of just-cut grass in the city or newly baled hay in the country. What best sums up summer for you and your family?
SUM, SUM, SUMMERTIME
Originally released in 1958 by The Jamies, “Summertime, Summertime” is an upbeat doo-wop ditty that’s been familiar for over six decades. A cover by Jan & Dean, the handsome surfer dude duo of the 1960s helped pioneer the California surfer sound like the beloved Beach Boys. Others may fondly recall the TV show and the musical group Sha Na Na who covered this lively classic in an energetic way.
In any case, here are a couple verses that sum up the state of mind that we all love — summertime!
It's time to head straight for them hills
It's time to live and have some thrills
Come along and have a ball
A regular free-for-all
Well we'll go swimmin' every day
No time to work just time to play
If your folks complain just say