Meet the King of Sweet Corn
The country road you take when you leave Highway 15 is nothing exceptional. A secondary road like so many others in the Montérégie, lined with fields and farm buildings, not to mention a few ancestral houses. But make no mistake: it is here, on the farmland of Saint-Jacques-le-Mineur, that the best sweet corn in the Greater Montréal area is grown. Nothing less!
The brick house where Georges Deneault, the patriarch, still lives is surrounded by fields. In all, there are 3,400 acres of land, 400 of which are devoted to growing the famous sweet corn. The farmer, now in his eighties, was categorical when he sowed his first corn almost 50 years ago: he would produce the best sweet corn ever. Soon enough, Georges and Claire, his wife, were standing out from the competition at both the Maisonneuve and Jean-Talon markets with their crisp, sweet corn. That’s when Georges earned the coveted title of “King of Sweet Corn”!
Quality First and Foremost
“From the start, my father wanted to focus on quality,” says Jean-Yves Deneault, the eldest son who runs the company alongside his brother Jean-Normand. What does make the difference, one is tempted to ask? “We don’t use any machinery to harvest our corn,” he answers. By breaking them off one by one, by hand, they not only obtain ears with intact kernels – which is not the case in industrial plantations – but they also ensure the degree of ripeness of each cob. “That’s something I’ve learned from experience,” says Jean-Yves. “I can feel the size of the cob just by taking it in my hand. If it’s too small, it’s not ripe enough. In that case, you have to leave it in the field. It’ll be ready when we come back a few days later.”
All summer long, from mid-July to the beginning of October, as early as 5 a.m., Jean-Yves goes to the fields to break corn with the six Guatemalan workers he hires season after season. “They’re really fast: every day they can break up to 1,000 cobs each. That’s how the farm’s four trucks are gradually filled during the morning to supply the markets.”
Although not certified organic, the sweet corn cultivars favoured by the Deneaults – yellow and bicoloured – are carefully selected for their gustatory qualities. Other criteria are also taken into account: “Here, it’s GMO-free,” stresses Jean-Yves. “And we only use bio-insecticides now.”
On the eve of their 60th birthday, Jean-Yves and Jean-Normand are not yet ready to retire. However, the next generation is already at work on the farm thanks to Camille, Jean-Médéric, Myriam, Jean-Chrystophe, Lauryanne and Félix, aged 18 to 25. The King can rest easy: the third generation of Deneault is more than ready to perpetuate the family tradition, in the field and at the market.
Quick Questions to Jean-Yves Deneault
Your fondest memories of the market?
I was 10-12 years old when my parents opened their first sweet corn stand at the Maisonneuve Market. Us kids were there all summer to help them. That’s when my father became the king of sweet corn… He was the King!
Yellow corn is popular in your home, perhaps more so than the bicolour. Why is that?
It’s a myth that bicolour corn is sweeter than yellow and that yellow is mushy. If it’s not crunchy, it’s not day fresh, it’s overripe or you’ve cooked it too long. Personally, I prefer yellow corn, which really tastes like the corn we ate as kids!
How long does it take from sowing to harvest?
On average 65 days, but it depends on the variety. To make sure we have corn from mid-July to Thanksgiving, we sow different sections of the field every few days for two months, from Easter to around St. John the Baptist. But it’s not really up to me, it’s up to the weather! And when the spring is cool, like this year, the corn grows more slowly.
Text by Jessica Dostie, Caribou magazine
Photos by Dominique Viau, BODOÜM Photography
This project is funded in partnership with the Ville de Montréal