Corny Delights

Corn-on-the-Cob (UIsed by permission.)

Corn-on-the-Cob (Used by permission.)

Pig fodder? I don’t think so.

Some Europeans refer to corn as pig fodder and use it accordingly. For many Americans, particularly those who grew up on farms or whose parents tended back-yard vegetable gardens, like mine, no summer food tastes better than corn-on-the-cob. Lots of butter and grainy tongue-puckering salt, for me, corn-on-the cob spells S-U-M-M-E-R and I don’t apologize for it. I’ll wrestle a pig any time for the pleasures of corn.

Corn, golden gift from the New World to the Old.

Carsten ten Brink)

Pounding corn (Photo credit: Carsten ten Brink)

Corn sustained the lives of many people throughout the centuries, and still does. As you read this, some woman in Africa is pounding corn in a wooden mortar, the pestle thumping rhythmically, sweat pouring down the woman’s strong muscular back. For corn in some form is the staple food in many less developed countries, especially in the Americas and parts of Africa. However, wealthier societies often overlook and underrate corn.  The English novelist Charles Dickens spoke for them when he quipped that eating hot cornbread was akin to eating a “kneaded pincushion.”

Interestingly enough, corn, in the form of cornmeal, probably saved the lives of the first American colonists, who first called corn “Injun” or “Indian.” With the help of their Indian neighbors at Jamestown in Virginia, the colonists learned to prepare cornmeal porridge, fried mush, “journey cakes,” Indian pudding, and hoecakes. An early convenience food, “journey cakes” or “Johnny cakes” lasted for long periods of time without spoilage. For long arduous journeys across craggy mountains and roaring rivers, corn couldn’t be beat.

Cornmeal batter (Used by permission.)

Cornmeal batter (Used by permission.)

But the most important cornmeal‑based dish was “hasty pudding.” Troubadours wrote songs about “hasty pudding,” concocted of nothing more than cornmeal, water, and salt, all boiled into a thick mush. The colonial housewife could leave the mush for hours in a huge cast‑iron pot, hanging just so over the warm hearth, while she attended to her infant child or spun thread or made bread or hoed corn. Eaten for supper smothered with milk or maple syrup, mush made America. Families ate leftover mush for breakfast, sliced and fried in bacon grease and drowned in maple syrup.

Modern cooks usually use cornmeal in cornbreads, spoonbreads, chili (as a thickener), fish frying, and tortillas. As you plan nutritious meals based on cornmeal, it is important to remember that corn, like other grains, is more nutritious when combined with beans, milk, cheese, or meat. Called protein complementation, this concept guarantees that the protein in the cornmeal is enhanced by the proteins from the other foods. Use cornmeal in whatever way you prefer, but do try the “South‑of‑the Border Cornbread” and the “Polenta,” which is Italian for plain old “hasty pudding,” dressed up with new garnishes.

And tonight, when you bite into that delicious piece of cornbread, remember Charles Dickens. Poor guy, he didn’t know what he was missing.

Cornbread (Used by permission of Brandi Sims.)

Cornbread (Used by permission of Brandi Sims.)

SOUTH‑OF‑THE‑BORDER CORNBREAD

1 c. flour
1 c. yellow cornmeal
1/2 t. baking soda
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 1/2 c. whole milk
3/4 c. plain yogurt
1 egg
1/4 c. bacon drippings
1/3 c. honey
1/3 c. diced fresh jalapenos or other hot chilies
1/2 c. grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/3 c. whole-kernel corn
3 slices bacon, fried crisp and crumbled

2 T.  melted butter
10″ cast‑iron skillet

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Fry bacon and reserve grease. Mix dry ingredients together and set aside. Mix wet ingredients together and set aside. Add cheese, chilies, bacon, and corn to the dry ingredients and mix in. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry mixture and stir only until ingredients are dampened.

2. Heat 2 T. butter in the cast‑iron skillet in a 425 degree oven. When butter sizzles, run it around the bottom and sides of the skillet and add the batter. Smooth top of batter and bake for about 20 minutes (or until bread is slightly firm in the center.) Just before bread is due to come out of the oven, pour the remaining 2 T. of butter over it and bake for about 5 more minutes. Serve with plenty of honey and a steaming bowl of chili.

Polenta (Used by permission of Laura Anne Anderson.)

Polenta (Used by permission of Laura Anne Anderson.)

POLENTA
1 c. yellow cornmeal mix with 1 c. COLD water
2 c. water
1 t. salt
1. Bring the two cups of water and the salt to a boil and slowly pour in the cornmeal/water mixture. Stirring constantly, let the cornmeal cook until it makes a “blub” sound (the bubbles will cause it do this). Reduce the heat and let the polenta cook on low heat for 10‑15 more minutes.

2. Pour the hot polenta into a greased glass pie pan. Let polenta cool completely, cut polenta into wedges, and fry lightly on each side. Serve topped with spaghetti sauce, grated Parmesan cheese, Creole gumbo sauce, or chili beans and grated cheddar cheese.

© 2008 C. Bertelsen

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