Of all the ways there are to enjoy corn–on the cob, popped, niblets, batter for frying or even sweetener for Cokes (any flavor)–I think the most under-appreciated outside the South would have to be cream corn.
Makes sense, seeing as it looks like something one would expect to find in a hospital cafeteria or airplane sick bag. I’ll be the first to admit that cream corn isn’t about to win any food porn pageant. It’s sort of what I pictured when those Little Rascals kids whined about the “mush” they had to eat. It is, after all, mushed up corn.
Imagine my surprise when I bought a book from 1903, which included recipes for mush that didn’t look half bad. This confirmed my suspicion that Spanky, Darla and the gang were a bunch of drama queens.
Now where were we? Oh, yes, cream corn.
Up until just a few years ago, I gave cream corn a wide berth. It’s not something I’d have deliberately chosen to consume and if a blob of it accidentally landed on my plate, I’d try to discretely eat around it. I can’t recall exactly when my opinion changed, but it must have been a holiday meal with my family wherein nobody went to the trouble to make my sister-in-law Karen’s amazing corn casserole. Instead, there was cream corn. Reluctantly, I sampled a bite. Then promptly went back for a second helping.
Since when was cream corn not only edible, but–dare I say–tasty?
As it turned out, this particular cream corn had never seen the inside of a tin can. Instead, it came from the freezer section in a tube reminiscent of the sort used for Pillsbury heat-up cookies. (Not the official name, but y’all know what I’m talking about.)
After returning to Seattle, I sought to recreate that creamy, corny goodness. Alas, the only frozen corn was on the cob, niblets, or popsicles (high-fructose corn syrup strikes again). One time, I got desperate and bought a can of the stuff. I cannot NOT recommend this tactic highly enough. Just say no, folks.
Then lo and behold, cream corn made an appearance on the menu of 5 Spot. Having been burned by Seattle’s interpretation of Southern food on seventeen too many occasions, I was dubious (but also, as I mentioned, desperate). So I ordered it. And y’all, it was awesome. Yes, I’m still talking about cream corn.
Another time I got it as a side at a BBQ joint I frequent, and it was even better. Hooray! Maybe Seattle chefs were finally beginning to embrace some classic Southern preparations without tossing in random extras like mushrooms, peppers, or kale.
The regional menu at 5 Spot changes every quarter and when I went back to the BBQ place some months later, I was informed that cream corn is seasonal. Really? Well, yes, I realize that corn is seasonal. But also, really? I mean, tomatoes are seasonal, but that doesn’t prevent Italian restaurants or pizza places from being open year-round.When I was home for Christmas in 2011, I saw my sister making cream corn and discovered that the frozen stuff isn’t the holy grail after all. What makes it good is the stick of butter she melted into it. Oh. My. I guess I should have figured out that cream corn contains, well, cream. But who knew?
Armed with this ammo, I set out to make myself some cream corn from scratch last year. By “scratch” I mean frozen niblets since the corn season in Seattle lasts about five minutes. In a word, yum! I used this recipe as a guideline, but tinkered with the ingredients to taste, so your results may vary.
Last September in MS, I made a version of the recipe using fresh corn with the help of my 8-year-old nephew, Jackson, and he liked it so much that he saved it to eat last at dinner. (High praise amongst our clan!)
Just in case I don’t write about corn again anytime soon, I have to share my favorite corn-related anecdote:
My dad hates corn. Always has. He will not eat the stuff, even if it’s disguised as a “casserole” loaded up with cheese and saffron rice. (Although he loves corn bread, so go figure.) If I recall correctly, his rationale is that corn is what one feeds to pigs, and he can’t stomach the idea of eating pig food. He will, however, happily eat actual pigs.
One day, he was eating my sister’s homemade soup and said, “I sure do like these crunchy water chestnuts.”
Jenna said, “Uh, Dad, that’s corn.”
Delusion–the ultimate flavor enhancer.
Do you like creamed corn? What’s your favorite recipe?
Photo credits: Cream corn by Shutterbean, Flickr Creative Commons; “The Perfect Woman” book cover and oatmeal mush recipe snapped by yours truly.