As i mentioned in the last post, I’ve been helping out at the Green City farmer’s market for the last few weeks. Often at closing time, there’s usually a little something left that’s probably too much of pain to pack up and lug back to the farm. This is when favors come into play, as in “do me a favor and take this home so I don’t have to deal with it.” Which is how I came into 15 ears of corn yesterday. Always happy to oblige.
I don’t remember loving sweet corn all that much as a kid. Sure, we ate it and it was good but I don’t recall wanting corn with every meal. It wasn’t even my favorite vegetable. A lot was the Birdseye kind, very respectable for a frozen vegetable. I remember having corn on the cob in the summer but nothing earth shattering. I was an indifferent corn eater. Then I moved to the Midwest, sweet corn capital of the world, and it was a whole other ballgame. I discovered REAL sweet corn, not much more than 24 hours from picking.
The thing with corn is that it’s at its peak moments after picking. The natural sugars start to break down right after that so it is literally at it’s best right there in the field. As corn sits, the sugars start converting to starch and the sweetness diminishes, little by little. I imagine the corn I was eating as kid in Arizona was weeks off the stalk by the time it got to us. But the stuff here … whoa baby. I can do some serious damage during corn season. I’ll be the first to tell you that 3 or 4 ears makes a really nice dinner. I’ve also been known to eat it raw right off the cob if I’m too lazy and/or too hot to fire up the kettle. If it’s fresh, it’s really very good raw. Turn up your nose and I bet you’ve never had good corn.
So after you’ve eaten your fill of steamed corn with lots of butter and coarse salt and still find yourself with 10 ears, what to do? Scanning my cookbooks shelves, the Grand Dame of Southern cooking caught my eye …. Edna Lewis. Ah, Miss Edna would know what to do with a glut of sweet corn.
If you’re not familiar with Edna Lewis, you should be. She was quite a remarkable lady. The granddaughter of freed slaves, she grew up to be a great chef, culinary ambassador, and caretaker of genuine Southern cooking. She inspired a generation of young chefs and ensured that the traditional Southern foods and preparations would live on. At 16, Edna left Freetown VA for Washington DC and later New York City. In New York, after a series of jobs, she opened a restaurant and became a local legend cooking for the likes of Tennessee Williams, Greta Garbo, Howard Hughes, Salvador Dali, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Truman Capote (doesn’t that just sound like a hoot??!) In the late ’40s, female chefs were few and far between and black female chefs even less so, yet she became well known and beloved for her simple but delicious Southern cooking. She went on to write several cookbooks and in the mid-1990’s, started the Society for the Revival and Preservation of Southern Foods. Edna passed away in 2006 at the age of 89 and left behind one hell of a legacy.
Now back to that corn problem. Strangely, there were only 2 corn recipes in The Taste of Country Cooking but they both sounded delicious – fried corn and corn pudding. I went with the pudding and it is easily one of the simplest tastiest things I have ever whipped up. I’m serious – I whipped this together in less than 10 minutes with ingredients I had on hand.
The result? It was the pure essence of everything that is so fantastically great about fresh sweet corn enveloped in a silky smooth custard. I will most certainly be making this again, especially if I keep doing “favors” and taking it off other peoples hands. I haven’t tried it but I have a feeling this would be really good with some cheese – parmesan or cheddar – folded in. I don’t know if Miss Edna would approve but I bet it’d be really tasty.
SWEET CORN PUDDING – adapted from The Taste of Country Cooking
2 cups of fresh corn kernels from the cob (about 3-5 ears depending on the size)
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 large eggs, beaten
2 cups whole milk
3 Tablespoons melted butter
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and set a pot of water to boil (you’re going to bake in a bain marie or water bath.)
- Lightly grease a 1 ½ quart casserole dish with softened butter. Place in a large roasting pan and set aside.
- Cut the corn kernels from the cob, using a serrated knife and cutting from the top to the bottom of each cob. Cut only half of the kernel – if you get too close to the cob you’ll get some of the tough bits.
- Use the back of the knife to scrape the cobs right into the bowl for the creamy bits and corn liquid. According to Miss Edna this gives the pudding a better texture.
- Add the corn to a large bowl with the sugar, salt, cayenne and black pepper and stir to combine.
- Combine the milk and eggs then add to the corn mixture, mixing well.
- Add the melted butter, stir to combine.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish.
- Sprinkle the nutmeg on top.
- Now then, you’ve got to get that boiling water into the roasting pan but not the casserole. I find the easiest way to do this is to put the unfilled pan into the oven and then carefully pouring the boiling water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the side of the casserole. If you’re brave – and steady – you can fill it outside of the stove and move the whole hot thing into the oven. Be careful not to slosh hot water into the casserole.
- Bake for 45 minutes until a tester comes out clean.
- Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. Pudding best served warm or room temperature and will keep in the fridge for a few days.
Note: the few times I’ve made this, a clear liquid would seep out after I’d taken a scoop. Usually this a sign of a broken custard but when tasted, it was pure corn flavor. I think that this has to do with the freshness of the corn I was using – high sugar, high moisture, low starch. Makes perfect sense so if yours does this, not to worry. It’s pretty delicious. If it bugs you, I suppose you can add a Tablespoon of cornstarch to thicken up any juices but I like it just the way it is.