Giving Thanks for the Garden – and Baking Corn Pudding

It would be beyond bogus to pretend we’re anything like self-sufficient. We’re not even notably local; I’m too fond of things like olives, lemons and pomegranate molasses.

But at Thanksgiving we always try – ok; I try; I’m the one who makes up the menu – to celebrate our own harvest, both from the wild and from the gardens.

Some years this includes the meat; we have venison. Bill has even on one occasion shot a deer so close to the back garden we were probably eating our hostas and roses along with the rest of the produce.

This year it’s turkey, just so I can keep my hand in. Local but not heritage. And the corn for the pudding  ! you absolutely have to have corn pudding! will be a mixture of our own Black Mexican and some kind of tender hybrid from Beth’s farmstand up in Maine.

Corn from the days when we grew more kinds. Top to bottom: Ruby Queen, unknown hybrid (seed purchased and name forgotten by Bill), the Black Mexican we still grow, at the cornbread stage

Corn from the days when we grew more kinds. Top to bottom: Ruby Queen, unknown hybrid (seed purchased and name forgotten by Bill), the Black Mexican we still grow, at the cornbread stage

You can’t really call this holiday “Corn Day,” or at least I hope you won’t, but if there’s one new world food that must be on the table, in thanks for itself and for the generosity of the poor fools who saved the colonists’ bacon, Zea mays is it.

You can have cornbread stuffing, of course, as many southerners do, but for those of us who quite correctly feel that bread stuffing is the way to go (and please don’t even talk to me about rice), corn pudding is an ideal way to have maize on the table.

This worthy classic is also called green corn pudding and Nantucket corn pudding but for some reason not corn custard, although that’s what it is. Proportions of corn to custard vary, as do instructions for preparing the corn.

Idea generally is to feature the milky interior of the kernels, rather than their tough skins. If the corn is fresh you can score down the kernels and scrape out the insides. If it’s not, you can puree the corn and then put it through a medium-mesh sieve.

Or not. We are in the not camp, in part because the occasional whole kernel adds a welcome bit of texture, in part because a lot of the scrape-out bit happened back when I was putting up the corn and in part because enough already. Thanksgiving isn’t about refinement (unless you’re using commercially frozen corn. Doesn’t matter if it’s organic, it’s all extracted from the cob as great big honking tough-skinned kernels. It’s worth it to puree this product, though straining remains unnecessary.)

For 6 servings:
Butter for the baking dish(es)
2 c. corn, scraped from the cob, pureed (see above) or taken from your freezer just long enough ago to thaw.
1-3 tablespoons flour – the starchier the corn the less flour you need
½ tsp. each salt and white pepper – you could add more, but at Thanksgiving there are likely to be people who salt the food without tasting it, and/or people on low-salt diets
3 eggs + one yolk
2 cups liquid dairy product: whole milk, light cream or a mixture of milk and heavy cream. All cream is too rich; low-fat milk is not tasty and although you could probably use soy milk I can’t vouch never having tried.
1. Heat the oven to 325. Butter a 1.5 qt. baking dish or twelve 1/c. ramekins*. You’ll be baking it in a water bath, so find an appropriate outer pan and heat a kettle of water.
2. Combine the corn, flour and seasonings. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and yolk to mix well and lighten without aerating, then beat in the dairy. Add the corn, turn the mixture into the baking dish(es) and put the dish(es) into the water bath pan.
3. Put the pan into the oven and carefully pour in hot water to come halfway up the sides of the dish(s). Bake until the center barely jiggles and a blunt knife blade emerges clean, about an hour for the single dish,  40 minutes for the ramekins.

As a Thanksgiving bonus, ovenspacewise, corn pudding is tastiest served tepid or cool (refrigerated and then permitted to return to room temperature).

There is a brief digest – with recipes – of information on the place of corn in our culinary history on the Food Timeline.

* This is the correct number – apologies to anyone who only buttered 6 and had a lot of leftover custard to quickly find a pan for.

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