Corn has been a part of American cuisine since colonial times because it was a hardy crop, relatively easy to grow, and resistant to insects. It was a staple of the Native American diet long before the arrival of the first settlers and quickly became part of the settler diet. It had a long harvest that spanned a longer period of time than wheat and was grown extensively from New England to Georgia. There is also a long history of corn in the Appalachian hills and valleys, as corn was better suited to mountainous terrain than wheat or barley. Maize was eaten fresh in the summer and dried into flour for the winter months. Practicality guided him to find his place in one form, sweet or savory, in breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Corn pudding is the result of the marriage of traditional Native American foods and a variation of English savory pudding. Corn puddings have been prepared and served, with little change in ingredients or cooking technique, for centuries. Some of the older recipes are titled “Green Corn Pudding,” but “green” doesn’t mean the corn is green, but rather refers to young, tender corn cobs that haven’t fully ripened and dried. Many modern recipes these days call for a tin of creamed corn and a tin of cornbread mix, but you know my classic recipes in this column are all about fresh and healthy comfort at home!
Sometimes called “spoon bread,” corn pudding is about as simple as it sounds: bread that can be eaten with a spoon, or a salty pudding thickened with natural corn starch. Whatever its name, it’s a comfort food that remains a favorite all these years later, especially at family reunions, holiday meals, church socials, and potlucks.
At the beginning of September, it is still corn season in much of the country. I appreciate this particular
recipe because it layers the flavor of corn by including both fresh kernels cut off the cob and corn in the form of dried flour. Not all cornmeal is the same, and while it seems pretty obvious, ground corn should look, taste and smell like ground corn, not unidentifiable flour! The outer shell of a kernel of corn (or wheat, rice, barley, or other grains) is called bran. It is full of fiber, vitamins and minerals. When corn is refined, the bran and germ are removed to increase shelf stability, and with them much of the fiber, vitamins and flavor. Be sure to look for whole kernel cornmeal for the most nutritious results and the fullest corn flavor and aroma.
Chef Virginia Willis, born in Georgia and trained in France, cooked the Normandy rabbit with Julia Child in France, cooked lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shade of a steaming volcano in Sicily, but everything started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Southern Food Authority, she is the author of Enjoy your meal everybody
and Basic to Bright, all of you
, among others. Follow his continued exploits on VirginieWillis.com.