Baked Corn Pudding — Down-Home Comfort
Corn has been part of the American kitchen since Colonial days, as 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 first settlers arrived and quickly became part of the settlers' diet. It had a long harvest that extended over a longer period of time than wheat and was cultivated extensively from New England to Georgia. There’s also a long history of corn in the hills and valleys of Appalachia, as corn was better suited to the mountainous terrain than wheat or barley. Corn was eaten fresh in the summer and dried into meal for the winter months. Practicality guided it to find its way in some form, sweet or savory, into breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Corn pudding is the offspring of the marriage of traditional Native American foods and a variation of English savory-custard pudding. Corn puddings have been prepared and served, with few changes in ingredients or culinary technique, for centuries. Some of the older recipes are titled, “Green Corn Pudding,” yet “green" does not mean the corn is green, but rather refers to tender young ears of corn that have not fully matured and dried. Nowadays, many modern recipes call for a can of creamed corn and a box of cornbread mix, but you know my classic recipes in this column are all about fresh and wholesome down-home comfort!
Sometimes called “spoonbread,” corn pudding is pretty much as simple as it sounds: bread that can be eaten with a spoon, or a savory pudding thickened with the natural starch of the corn. Regardless of what it’s called, it’s a down-home comfort dish that remains a favorite all these years later, especially at family gatherings, holiday meals, church socials and potluck dinners.
Early September is still corn season in much of the country. I enjoy this particular recipe because it layers the flavor of the corn by including both fresh kernels cut from the cob and corn in the form of dried meal. All cornmeal is not the same, and although it seems rather 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 grain) is called bran. It’s full of fiber, vitamins and minerals. When the corn is refined, the bran and germ are removed to increase shelf stability, and with them goes much of the fiber, vitamins, and flavor. Make sure to seek out whole-grain cornmeal for the most-nutritious results and the fullest corn flavor and aroma.
Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y'all , among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.