Nothing is more American than corn. Also called maize by the indiginous peoples of the entire Western Hemisphere, corn has been cultivated for thousands of years. Its uses then, as well as today, are innumerable.
In the movie “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”, there is a scene where Pee Wee Herman is following a group tour through the Alamo, where he is anxious to get through the tour very quickly. Stopping at an exhibit depicting early Texan life, Tina the tour guide says “there are thousands and thousands of uses for corn, all of which I will tell you about right now…..” You have to say this with an extreme Texan accent.
As funny as it was, I couldn’t help but start rattling off the myriad uses for corn that I could think of. There is yellow corn, white corn, bi-color corn, and blue corn. Corn can be eaten fresh, and dried, whole and ground. There are corn tortillas, corn bread, corn pone, corn fritters, corn dogs, corn pudding and kettle corn. It is ground to make masa, cornmeal, cornstarch, polenta, and grits, and is the basis for cornflakes, snack chips and dog food. It can be fried, boiled, baked, roasted, puffed and popped, or you might find it pickled, stewed, steamed, sautéed or creamed.
There are corn cob pipes, corn rows and corned beef, none of which contain corn, and there are the corns that grow on some people’s feet–you don’t want to eat those. If you ever run into Children of The Corn, you’ll want to stay away from those, too.
Other corn based products include corn syrup, corn oil, and the bio-fuel Ethanol.
It can be made into beverages such as Moonshine, or White Lightening–an American Whiskey made of corn. Pre-Columbians were the first to drink the still popular Mexican beverage called Atole (ah-TOH-lay). Atole is a sweet, hot drink made from masa, piloncillo (or brown sugar), cinnamon and milk. When chocolate is added, it is called Champurrado, and is the drink most traditionally served with tamales.
Corn is usually served as a savory side dish, but with a naturally high sugar content it is also well suited for sweeter applications. Hasty Pudding, or Indian Pudding, is a brown, fairly unattractive dessert, a fact which is quickly forgotten once it is tasted. A baked corn meal pudding sweetened with molasses or maple syrup, flavored with ginger and spices, and topped with ice cream, it is simple, homey and comforting. Corn also makes an intriguing ice cream….like a rich French Vanilla, but with a little somethin’ somethin’ extra…….
My favorite three “out of the ordinary” corn recipes are below, and conveniently enough, are great served together!
- 1/2 cup masa harina (masa flour)
- 5 cups milk or water (I use almond milk)
- 1/4 cup piloncillo, grated, or brown sugar
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 1 vanilla bean, split
In a large saucepan over medium heat, whisk the masa into the milk, a little at a time, making sure there are no lumps. Stir constantly until the consistency of heavy cream. Add remaining ingredients, and stir until sugar is dissolved. Whisk continuously until mixture comes to a boil. Pour through a strainer into mugs, and serve immediately.
To make Champurrado: when Atole comes to a boil, add in 3 oz cake of Mexican chocolate; alternately, you may use 3 squares of semi-sweet baking chocolate. Beat until frothy.
- 4 1/2 cups milk
- 2/3 cup cornmeal
- 1/4 cup salted butter
- ¼ cup dark molasses
- ¼ cup pure maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 1 t ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 325*. Grease a 1 1/2 quart casserole dish.
In a large saucepan, whisk cornmeal into milk, a little at a time to ensure no lumps. Place the mixture over medium-low heat, and cook for twenty minutes, stirring constantly. When mixture has thickened, stir in remaining ingredients, and pour into casserole dish. Bake for 90 minutes.
Spoon into bowls and serve warm with Corn and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, or Vanilla Ice Cream.
Corn and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream–3 quarts
- 8 ears fresh sweet corn, shucked
- 4 cups whole milk
- 4 cups heavy cream
- 2 vanilla beans, split
- 1 ¼ cups sugar
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 18 large egg yolks
Cut the kernels from the corn using a sharp knife over a large bowl. Using the dull edge of the knife, scrape the cobs to remove the remaining corn milk. Place the corn, corn milk, whole milk, and heavy cream into a heavy pot. Scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the mixture, and add the beans into the pot also. Mix in the sugars. Bring to a low simmer over medium low heat.
Beat the egg yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer. With the mixer set on low speed, slowly pour 2 cups of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks. If you do this too quickly, you will wind up with scrambled eggs. Once the milk has been incorporated, slowly whisk the egg/milk mixture back into the pot. Cook for 2 minutes more, then remove from heat. Cover and refrigerate the custard for 24 hours before pouring into your ice cream machine and freezing according to manufacturer’s directions.