Saturday, October 8, 2011

Corn Pudding: My Year of Brethren Food

My second attempt at homemade corn pudding, 2011.
It's been a while since I've posted a recipe from the series:  My Year of Brethren Food.  And there's a very good, and very humbling reason for it.  I've discovered that I'm not a good enough cook to make food from my grandmother's Brethren cookbook without a lot of experimentation.  And by experimentation, I mean making mistakes.

Like many old cookbooks, my grandmother's cookbook was written for people, mostly women, who cooked daily and knew how to make most foods without a recipe.  That is to say that there are certain assumptions that these cookbooks expect people to know.  For instance, most cakes bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.  Often times, cake recipes in old cookbooks simply list the ingredients and assume that you will know to bake it in two cake pans in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes.  These recipes also assume you know what things should look like when they're done.  They rarely give advice like, "prick cake with a toothpick and if the toothpick comes out clean, your cake is done".  

I admire people who know so much about cooking that they don't need recipes and I admit that I like to cook without recipes myself.  For me, this is less about skill and more about laziness.  Most of the time, I just can't be bothered to find a recipe when I cook dinner.  I stock my refrigerator and pantry with ingredients I know my family likes and when dinnertime rolls around I see what I can find and whip something together.  Even though I now plan a weekly menu to make sure I have the ingredients to make a week's worth of dinners, I usually am thinking in general terms.  Something like, "Monday-- pasta."  Then I check the shelves for penne, check the backyard to take stock of the herb and tomato supply, then decide what I need to buy at the market-- maybe some more tomatoes, garlic, see if we still have parmesan.  I worry

For some time, I'd been pretty worn out by the details of my daily life and not ready to embark on a new food project.  That is, until the corn came in.  This is an expression my grandmother would have used to describe the ripening of corn in her garden and I always think about the arrival of fresh corn at my farmer's market in this way.  We tried to grow some miniature corn in our garden this year without much success and we rely on our farmer's market to supply us with fresh corn throughout the summer.

My girls love to choose their own ears of corn, shuck corn, and eat corn.  I love to see their love of good, fresh food (especially corn) and I'm a sucker for letting them rummage through the giant piles of corn at the farmer's stall.  Unfortunately, allowing my girls to go hog-wild at the farmer's market tends to lead to an overabundance of fresh corn at our house.  This creates a storage problem, as well as a consumption problem.  As much as we all love eating corn on the cob, there's only so much we can eat before it goes starchy in our refrigerator.  I'm a firm believer that fresh corn needs to be eaten as soon as it's picked and I needed to come up with a recipe to use up all our fresh corn while it was still sweet.  

I started using up our corn supply by making the tomato-and-corn soup I prepared for my husband the first time I ever cooked dinner for him.  It was great, but the girls didn't go for it.  Too much tomato, not enough corn.  So I moved on to corn pudding.  I knew the kids loved my mother's version of corn pudding so I figured I could probably come up with a recipe of my own that they'd love just as much.

My mother's version of corn pudding uses canned corn-- one can of creamed corn and one can of whole kernel corn.  When I started looking online for corn pudding recipes to supplement the recipes  from my grandmother's cookbook, I was shocked to find that most recipes I came across used canned corn.  Not that there's anything wrong with this.  I love this kind of corn pudding.  But I wanted to make corn pudding that used all the delicious fresh corn that my children begged me to buy at the farmer's market.  

I started this project, as I often do, by consulting my grandmother's Inglenook Cookbook.  Page 196 has two recipes for corn pudding.  The first recipe called for cornmeal, but no fresh corn.  The second recipe was called "Green Corn Pudding" and seemed like it would be a good starting point.  The recipe had only eight ingredients and was a mere three sentences long.  It was, however, missing three key ingredients that I knew I wanted to include in my corn pudding:  sour cream, corn meal, and nutmeg.

I've been a nut for nutmeg ever since my mother bought me a nutmeg grinder for Christmas several years ago.  I put nutmeg in greens, cookies, and anything else I can think of.  I also knew my recipe needed to contain cornmeal because a box of Jiffy corn muffin mix is the basis my mother's recipe for corn pudding and I was sure I'd miss that bit of crunch and texture that cornmeal provides.  I probably don't need to tell you why I wanted to use the sour cream, but I will.  Sour cream makes everything better.

Annabel stirs the corn pudding, 2011.
I made several versions of corn pudding before I came up with a recipe that my family really loved.  My daughters helped me make the first version, which wasn't a great success.  We ate it, but thought it was a little too dense and too mealy.  (I reduced the amount of cornmeal in the second attempt.)  And it wasn't sweet enough for our taste buds, so I added a bit of sugar to my next version.  I'm proud to say that my second attempt was an instant hit.  I'd made it a few days before my parents showed up for a visit, which was nice because they are real authorities on the subject of corn.  My parents grow rows of sweet corn in their garden and love it more than any people I know, so when my father tried to steal a second scoop of corn pudding away from my daughter, I knew I'd created a winning recipe.

Corn Pudding
by Susan Lutz

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 1/4 cup corn meal
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pinch of nutmeg (freshly ground, if you can manage it)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup sour cream or Mexican crema
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 4 cups fresh corn, cut from the cob with a sharp knife
Note:  In the Inglenook Cookbook, Sister Nannie H. Strayer from Johnstown, PA suggests that corn for corn pudding "should be fresh plucked and carefully taken from the cob, either by running a sharp knife down the center of the rows or by shaving the tips off and then pressing the pulp out with a blunt knife."  I use the latter technique.

Instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Place dry ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine.
  • Add wet ingredients and stir until mixture forms a thick batter.
  • Add corn and gently fold into batter.
  • Place mixture in a greased 9 x 11 pan. (I used a cast iron version, but glass or metal baking pans will work just fine.)
  • Bake at 375 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes.  Let cool slightly before serving.