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Corn Pudding

Corn.jpg
Rosana Prada/Flickr
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Stalk of Corn

A quick glance in the produce section of your local market or at your favorite farm stand will reveal a rich abundance of corn. This year has been very, very good to Maryland corn farmers and we are the beneficiaries. And as Chef Jerry Pellegrino, agrees, it's so tempting to toss a few ears of corn into a pot of boiling water, or onto the grill that we often forget there are a lot of other good things we can do.

And at the top of the list is corn pudding, for a long, long time one of American's favorite side dishes. The basic recipe is simplicity itself: you just whip up a custard mix and add some corn. Ordinary recipes say that you should use canned corn, either kernels and/or creamed corn. That's fine for mid-winter, but during the summer... I mean, come on! You have to go with fresh corn.

Our first point is that any kind of corn meant for human consumption will work: yellow, white or bi-color. The trick of course is getting the kernels off the cob.

The old school technique was to use a sharp knife and just cut down the cob, collecting the kernels in a bowl. Once done, you could also use the flat back of the knife blade to scrape down the stubble to liberate even more juice.

But these days there are also more up-to-date methods. They've come up with little gadgets to do the job. Some are sort of a handle with an open circle that you run down the cob. Others are sort of peelers that you drag down the rows of

kernels chopping them off en masse. Either way, you'll want about two cups of corn kernels for the pudding.

Your custard has to finish up thick enough to suspend the corn kernels and keep them from sinking to the bottom. All recipes seem to call for melted butter, a couple whole eggs, milk or cream, a little sugar, some salt and pepper and either flour or corn starch to thicken. Some folks suggest adding a pinch of nutmeg to the dish, others a drop of vanilla. Quite a few recipes mention finely minced onions or diced red peppers.

Early on in my cooking career I tossed in the diced red peppers and also slivers of Smithfield ham for a dish I called Corolla Corn Pudding, named after the place on the Outer Banks where we were staying.

With such a simple recipe, variations are inevitable. Down south it's not unusual to find cornmeal baked into the pudding, although most folks will not call it "corn pudding" per se.

Early settlers used molasses in their recipes to make what they called Indian corn pudding. It's still made today, but be aware, the molasses will darken the pudding quite a bit. Often they will tell you to place your bowl full of pudding in a larger bowl filled with boiling water. You put the whole shebang in the oven, uncovered, cooking it for about an hour and half.

Finally, the good people of Brazil have perfected a sweet corn pudding called "curau de milho". In addition to increasing the sweetness, you're supposed to run the pudding through a blender and a fine sieve to get it as creamy as possible. It ends up being one of those desserts that's great served either hot or cold, although in the heat of corn season, chilled curau de milho sounds good to me.

Here's Al's own recipe.

COROLA CORN PUDDING

Ingredients:

1/2 stick butter

2 tbs light brown sugar

2 tbs fall-purpose flour, sifted

1 tsp salt

3 whole eggs, beaten

2 cups fresh corn, cut from the cob

1 3/4 cups half and half

1/2 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup finely diced red bell peppers

1/2 cup shredded Smithfield ham, or equivalent

Directions:

1. Pre-heat oven to 325°. In a heavy cast-iron skillet, melt the butter over low heat. Stir in the sugar, flour and salt.

2. Add the eggs and beat the mixture with a whisk or electric beater.

3. Stir in the half and half, then the corn and add the vanilla.

4. Stir in the diced peppers and the ham, evenly distributing them.

5. Place the skillet in the oven and bake for 45 minutes. Halfway through, stir the mixture to keep ingredients even distributed.

6. The pudding is finished when you can insert a knife and it comes out clean. It should be golden brown on top.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
As General Partner of Clipper City Brewing Company, L.P., Hugh J. Sisson is among Baltimore's premier authorities on craft brewing and a former manager of the state's first pub brewery, Sissons, located in Federal Hill. A fifth generation Baltimorean, Hugh has been involved in all aspects of craft brewing.