Savor the South–Corn

corn cover

Corn by Tema Flanagan, UNC Press 2017, $20.00 cloth, 144 pages

A light wind swept over the corn, and all nature laughed in the sunshine.

Anne Bronte

Corn has to be among the most American of foods. Corn is woven through Mayan mythology–marking calendar dates and shaping origin stories. English settlers called the flour Indian meal and used it instead of wheat in their traditional recipes–and in the process, developed new dishes like Indian Pudding.

From a homey staple, corn expands to become an industrial behemoth–transforming into fuel, oil, and corn syrup, the secret ingredient in almost everything on supermarket shelves.

But in this book, Tema Flanagan claims corn for the South–grits, pone, hominy–fresh off the cob, nixtamalized, distilled, or ground into meal.

The recipes show off corn’s range–in chapters on fresh corn, dried and ground corn, nixtamalized and popped corn, and finally mashed and fermented. Nixtamalized corn is an ancient way of processing corn by boiled with kernels with wood ash until the husks released, leaving a soft puffy hominy, which was easier to grind into meal. The process also makes niacin nutritionally available, which helps prevent pellagra.

It’s dishes like the slow saute of Macque Choux, Smoke Signal’s Bakery Mexican Chocolate Chess Pie, and Chicken and Green Chile Posole show off corn’s sweet and savory flavors. Some dishes, like Pimiento Cheese Cornbread and Muscadine Grape Cornmeal Cobbler, are firmly anchored in the South. Others range farther, like western favorite Frito Pie and Succotash, named by New England’s Narragansett Indians.

Even when they take a gourmet turn, like Sweet Corn Ice Cream with Raspberry-Basil Swirl, the recipes have a homey attitude. There’s just something friendly about corn, especially when concocted into mulled cider, milk punch or a mint julep.

And Flanagan solves the mystery of why northerners don’t eat grits. In the North, flint corn is a hard variety, tougher to grind, while Southern dent corn is easy to grind into meal–grits. Though the mystery continues–Italian polenta (grits for gourmets) is made from flint corn. One for the ages and the fork.

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About Appetite for Books

read, cook, eat, repeat
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