Photo by Shane Wynn
For many, fresh corn is a seasonal must. This cookout staple is often a feature dish during summer meals.
When browsing the aisles of your local grocers for this veggie, you may wonder how it made it from the field to your cart. Some of that sweet corn begins its journey to your table at Szalay’s on Riverview Road in Peninsula. With over 200 acres of sweet corn on their farm, the third-generation owners of Szalay’s Sweet Corn and Farm, supply grocery stores and families alike with their deliciously sweet fresh produce.
Paula Szalay, the owner, says they strive for a freshness you just can’t beat. Customers even greet the tractors coming in from the field. “When you ship something, you don’t know if it’s three days old or three weeks old. My customers are actually standing there waiting for the corn to come in from the fields. They know it’s fresh,” says Szalay.
This family is grooming the fourth and fifth generation Szalays to take over the business, from son and daughter Johnny and Georgia, to six-year-old Eva and Little Johnny.
I heard that you have some of the best sweet corn. What is your secret?
PS: Hard work and long hours! But actually we are down in the Valley, right in the middle of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, so we have river bottom soil. Between the soil and the location of the Valley—which gives you evening dew and the temperature drops down at night time—it makes the corn sweeter.
Which month is your sweet corn the sweetest?
PS: It’s at its sweetest from about the third week of July until about the middle of September.
Corn is a big part of your everyday life. Do you ever get sick of it?
PS: No. We actually eat corn almost every day. Even though it’s a bi-colored corn, ours is the honey and cream variety. However it changes every four or five days. They have different textures, different flavors, some have more corn flavor, some a sweeter flavor, so they're all different. Similar to how there are all different types of red wine, there are different types of honey and cream corn.
When the dinner bell rings, how does your family chow down on this veggie?
PS: Since I eat it almost every day, we eat it different ways. Sometimes we eat it raw when we’re out in the field. If we’re in a hurry, we’ll just grab an ear, husk it and eat it. We have it roasted, especially when we have one of our eateries. Pop it in a pan on the stove or wrap it around a wet napkin and warm it in the microwave. You can’t mess it up; it’s a great vegetable.
Szalay’s isn’t just a farming operation. Tell us a little about the Weekend Eatery.
PS: We have three huts going on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The first one is the grill. It has five different types of delicious sandwiches. And then next to it is the corn roaster, and with that we have fresh-squeezed lemonade and Southern Style sweet tea. For dessert we have fresh fruit sundays and ice cream. We also have live entertainment on the weekend, as well as log furniture for our customers to sit down, have a bite to eat and enjoy the entertainment.
Many people think of farms and their minds go straight to corn mazes and fall activities. Do you have a lot of summer fun on the farm?
PS: No, we just work every day at the farm. Our summer fun is to watch the smiles on our customers’ faces and to interact with them. That’s what makes it so rewarding—when the customers are happy, smiling, talking, laughing, giggling and having a good time. It’s something that we have been able to provide them with.
Over the years, are there any standout memories?
PS: The things that make you laugh are always the things that are screw-ups or goof ups. Even when we’ve had weather catastrophes and we all have to work together as a family and some friends have to come down to help us in our boots and our shovels, [those] are the fun things.
Between the farm, the market and the Weekend Eatery it sounds like you are always busy. Do you ever get to relax?
PS: Well the other day I got to sleep in until 5 a.m.
/ Ashlyne Wilson is an editorial intern who is working on her journalism degree at Kent State University.