From the pop…pop…popping of the dried kernels to the corn syrup found in many Southern and Cracker recipes, the oldest farm raised crop in North American can be prepared in a seemingly endless variety of ways. Corn is dried, ground, pounded, scraped, cut and milked; roasted, grilled, creamed, steamed, and stewed. Dishes such as sofkee, grits, polenta, succotash, fritters, chowder and corn on the cob, are all favorites from past generations of Floridians. From fresh to parched, corn is one of the most versatile vegetables there is to cook with.
From popcorn balls and caramel corn for dessert, to grits and cornbread for breakfast and dinner, corn is many things to many people.
When buying fresh corn from the market a quick test for ripeness is easy: open the husks and pierce a kernel, it should have a milky white substance inside the kernel.
Fresh corn sliced from the cob and fried in butter, in a cast iron skillet till brown, is one simple, yet delicious way to prepare it.
Cornmeal, salt and boiling water are all you need for fried corn-cakes, and a little corn oil.
The methods for preparing corn cakes, corn pone, and hoe cakes, was demonstrated to newly arriving settlers by the Native Americans who mastered the art of raising corn, as they relied on corn as a major part of their diet. Teaching the Europeans how to survive by replacing wheat flour with corn meal helped these new immigrants to survive in the New World. Fried or baked, the method more than the ingredients takes it from pone to pudding.
My all time favorite corn dish is corn chips, from A Culinary History of Florida.
Pigs And Pone
Charles Lamb, in his humorous essay A Dissertation on Roast Pig, tells a fictional account of discovering roasted pig when a young boy accidentally caused a fire that burned down the family home with piglets trapped inside. As the aroma wafted through town, the boy found the charred piglets and, after touching them, he licked his fingers and “for the first time in his life… tasted crackling.” Bacon and bacon drippings are such an integral part of Southern cooking that many remember a grease canister placed upon the stovetop to store the drippings after frying up a batch of bacon in the morning, this was then used to season vegetables, cornbread or other dishes throughout the day. Recipes for making bacon appear in some of the first cookbooks available. In the early 1800s, Hannah Glasse and Mary Randolph gave detailed descriptions of the process in their cookbooks, but unless you have a smokehouse, you might want to peruse the markets and find your own favorite brand.
Native Americans, who baked, dried and pounded corn mixed with water and salt on hot stones, introduced pone. Later, the same combination of ingredients was baked on the back of a hoe or a utensil made specifically for hoecakes. Today, the hoecake is a quick and simple bread to make: with 1 cup corn meal and 3⁄4 cup hot water, stirred together with a little salt, small amounts are then cooked on a hot cast-iron skillet with a little bacon grease.
No Florida fish fry would be complete without hush puppies and cheese grits on the menu. According to legend, hush puppies were named so because they were used to quiet the barking dogs in Saint Marks. Similar to corn bread, with chopped onion added and fried instead of baked. Hush puppies are made by dropping spoonfuls of dough into hot grease and are one of the most popular classic Cracker foods.
Cheese grits can be as easy as stirring your favorite cheese into a bowl of warm cooked grits or by stirring in an egg and ham then baking them in the oven. Old-fashioned coarse grits, such as the ones sold at Bradley’s Country Store near Tallahassee, requires a longer cooking time than most varieties found at the local grocery store. Bradley’s Country Store, on the National Register of Historic Places, has been selling smoked sausage, cornmeal and stone-ground grits since the 1920s.
Homemade Corn Chips
1 cup fine (white, stone ground) corn meal
1 to 1 & 1⁄2 cups boiling water
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Stir boiling water into cornmeal until smooth, using only enough water for a thick batter. Stir in butter and salt. Pour into greased cast-iron skillet and bake in oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and cut into 1-inch by 1-inch strips. Heat skillet with 1⁄2 inch of corn oil on the stovetop. Add strips a few at a time to hot skillet and cook until crisp. Drain on paper towels.
Following the path of a recipe to see how the cooking styles were adapted to the environment based on ingredients and methods available and searching for the roots of many popular dishes that harkens back to pre-Colonial days helps to uncover the foundation of great Southern cooking. Much can be credited to the Native Americans and the Spanish for introducing corn and pork, respectively. But it is corn that influenced everything from a simple snack to a hearty desserts.
In 1796, Amelia Simmons wrote, American Cookery, the first cookbook to introduce American ingredients in the recipes. Five recipes using cornmeal were included: three recipes for Indian pudding, one for johnnycake or hoecake and one for Indian slapjacks.
The 1863 cookbook Confederate Receipt Book includes a recipe for Indian Bread, made with buttermilk, corn meal, flour, molasses, soda and salt (5).
Abby Fisher in, What Mrs. Fishser Knows About Old Southern Cooking, includes a recipe for “Plantation Corn Bread or Hoe Cake” as she calls it, is simply made with lard, cornmeal, soda and boiling water (11).
Today the Hoecake is a quick and simple bread to make, instead of a stone or a hoe using a black iron skillet.
2 cup fine (white, stone ground) corn meal
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon bacon drippings (or corn oil)
Heat the oven to 475 degrees
Preheat iron skillet with bacon drippings on the stove top or in the oven.
Mix together meal and salt; add enough hot water to make a mush, thick but a little soupy.
Pour a small amount into hot skillet and cook on medium heat until brown (or oven 25 minutes), turn and cook until done. Repeat process with remaining batter.
More favorite family recipes:
From my niece DeLyn Sheffield McBride: “My husband decided that since we like fried okra so much, fried Brussels sprouts should be great too. He. Is. A. Genius. (Corn meal, coconut flour, ranch seasoning, and S&P)”
Make approximately 2 ½ quarts
2 ½ quarts popped popcorn
¼ cup butter, melted
2 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
Heat oven to 325 degrees F.
Put popped corn in a large bowl; drizzle with butter and toss.
In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with salt until frothy.
Gradually beat in sugar until stiff peaks form.
Fold egg white mixture into buttered popcorn, until popcorn is evenly coated.
Turn onto lightly greased large rimmed baking pan.
Bake for 15 minutes stirring every five minutes.
6 cups popped popcorn
1 tablespoon butter, melted
½ cup grated cheddar cheese
Heat oven to 325 degrees F.
Place popped corn in a shallow baking pan.
Drizzle with melted butter.
Sprinkle with cheese and mix lightly.
Heat 3-5 minutes stirring frequently