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How To > Food > Roasting Ears of Corn

Note: Although this article references campfire cooking by soldiers on campaign, this recipe is well suited for open hearth cooking or civilian outdoor cooking in a "camp of convenience" setting and roast corn was popular in our era.


Article by Vincent A. Petty, originally written for the 16th Virginia Infantry Newsletter.

"When the corn became large enough to eat, the roasting ears, thrown into the ashes with the shucks on, and nicely roasted, made a grateful meal."
Private Carlton McCarthy, 2nd Company Richmond Howitzers, from A Detailed Minutiae of Soldier Life.

"We did fairly well for food and when the commissary department was short we would add roasting-ears and green apples to the bill of fare…We were ordered to return to out command just before night and found it a short distance to the rear. When leaving the field, the captain told us to gather what corn we wanted, so I took to camp six ears. When we reached camp we soon had fires and the corn in shucks on them cooking, and we found this a quick and excellent way to cook corn as the shucks retain the flavor."
Private William A. Fletcher, 1st Texas Infantry, from Rebel Private: Front and Rear, Memoirs of a Confederate Soldier.

As July and August rolled around and the corn ripened it was time for the soldiers to enjoy the roasting-ear. Roasting-ears were easy to forage, quick to cook and provided the soldier some food when issued rations were found to be lacking in quantity and quality. A roasting-ear was very simply corn on the cob that was cooked on a bed of coals while still in the shucks (or husks).

To prepare roasting-ears one must first tend to the fire that they intend to use. As with any field or campaign cooking, the cooking should be accomplished on a hot bed of coals and not directly over fire or flame. To get to the coals you need to cook on, coals can be pulled out of the fire, the burning fuel moved to one side of the fire to expose coals, or the fire maybe allowed to reduce itself to a bed of coals.

Once there is a good bed of coals it is time to prepare the roasting ear. Pull back the shucks just enough (not too far) to expose the end of the ear of the corn and pour water from your canteen down into the corn. This addition of water will help to cook the corn while keeping it from burning, however addition of water is not required as the corn usually has enough moisture to keep from burning.

When the roasting-ear is prepared all that is left is to place it on the bed of coals and every few moments rotate the ear to allow it to cook evenly and to keep it from burning. I have found that it takes about 7-8 minutes too cook, but that time will certainly vary depending on the heat of the coals. The roasting-ear will be finished cooking when the exposed corn silk tassels have burned off and some of the shucks have dried and burned, yet there should still be a layer of the shucks protecting the ear of corn. When finished cooking, pull back the remaining husks and remove the corn silk and enjoy. It may take a little practice to cook the corn to your taste and preference.

Keep in mind that roasting-ears would have only been available to soldiers from mid or late July to at best early September. Beyond early September the corn has begun to dry.

"When the corn was about cooked and the meat good and hot, but very rare we were ordered to fall in line. We did so, and the different methods of carrying hot food could not well be described. I partly shucked my ears of corn and carried by the shucks…as soon as the food was cool enough I commenced lightening my load to the extent of cob and shuck." William Fletcher, 1st Texas

© Article Copyright, Vincent Petty, 1999-2005. May not be reproduced without the permission of the author.