Day 4: Corn – Celebrate American Food History

English novelist Charles Dickens once compared eating cornbread to eating a pincushion. In that disdainful sentiment, I see generations of English and other European people trying to adapt to this New World grain when their favorite grain – wheat – failed to thrive. Corn, or maize/Indian corn as it was called by the early settlers, originated –…

Grits on the Menu: A Short Treatise on a Global Favorite

Big Hominy Grits (Photo credit: James Bridle) These days, when you drive through the endless piney woods of low-country Georgia and South Carolina, you will see fields of corn, and not so much cotton. And, if you’re lucky when you stop for breakfast, there will be grits on the menu. Not just any old grits,…

A Bare Table is Like an Artist’s Canvas

There’s something about tables, big, little, or bare – and those bare ones  in particular – that make me want to festoon them with food I’ve cooked, like floral garlands at a grand wedding. I feel an urge, too, to seat people on the equally vacant chairs, saying, “Come on now, sit down a spell,…

The Curse of Corn: Poverty and Politics and Pellagra

Dr. Joseph Goldberger stands watching the children eating. He’s about to prove his hunch that pellagra occurred in the face of nutritional deprivation. He devoted years to discovering what caused the curse of corn, pellagra. Although the fat cats in the South of the time, and we’re talking early 20th-century here, didn’t want to spend…

Ladies of the Pen and the Cookpot: The Other Mrs. (Abby) Fisher

Before M. F. K. Fisher, sometimes known as plain Mrs. Fisher, there was Mrs. Abby Fisher. And Abby Fisher’s personage couldn’t be more different from M. F. K. Fisher than if a novelist like Flannery O’Connor dreamed her up. The author of what food historians long believed to be the first African-American cookbook,* Abby Fisher…

A Rogue’s Gallery: The Many Faces of Polenta

With apologies to Shakespeare and Romeo & Juliet and all lovers of the same: What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet; So polenta would, were it not polenta call’d, Retain that dear perfection which it owes Without that title. The big fuss in today’s…