7.16.2012

A call to home

It's hot. The grass feels like burnt toast under our toes, and Sally now takes a cold shower every afternoon after lunch. It's easier than cleaning her up in the sink, and she laps and slurps and slaps at the hose.


The shower is our version of air conditioning. It's been hot and we've been baking—Easy Little Bread twice a week, and yesterday Marion Cunningham's Custard-Filled Corn Bread. I was getting ready to write my column for this week when the news broke; my mom wrote to tell me Marion had passed away at 90. One article I read described her as one-part America's grandma and one-part culinary godfather, which I think is a nice way to be remembered.

At any rate, I started paging through her book. There are many, but I only own one—Lost Recipes—her most recent. It's a call to home cooks, to everyone, really, to get back in the kitchen and start feeding our own. 

"Bringing ready-cooked meals home is not the same as cooking something in your own kitchen, she writes in the introduction, "where you are in control of the ingredients you use, where you fill the house with good cooking smells, and where you all share a single dish, taking a helping and passing the platter on to your neighbor. Nothing can replace that."

It's a good quote. A lot of the baking recipes in the book are a little too white-flour and sweet for my taste, but I like the soups and salads and entrees. They capture another era—the years when my grandmother was cooking for my mom and my uncle, in the fifties and sixties, when beef stroganoff was in its prime. 


That up there is the Custard-Filled Corn Bread from page 36. The headnote says it came from Marjorie Kinnan Rawling's Cross Creek Cookery, published in 1942. It's everything the title says. I've been wanting to make a fresh-corn cornbread for a while, and since we got our first corn of the season at the Orleans Farmers' Market Saturday, I decided that it was time despite the heat. Marion did not disappoint. The bread is billowy, soft—creamy and a little bit decadent.

I think it's meant to be eaten hot and plain, but we've been eating ours cold, straight from the fridge, with a little drizzle of maple syrup or honey. It's incredible. In fact, I'm eating it as I type. Sally's still napping, the house is quiet, and I don't have to be at work until 3. I'll put the bowl in the sink before I leave.

CUSTARD-FILLED CORN BREAD

"Corn Bread" is a stretch if you ask me. This is more like corn pudding, or a corn popover, or some sort of savory corn sufflĂ©. But let's not get hung up on the name. It's amazing. 

2 eggs
3 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons honey
3/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
2 cups milk
1 and 1/2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 cup flour (the recipe calls for all-purpose; I used and like whole wheat)
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup corn kernels (about two ears)
1 cup heavy cream

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch square baking dish about 2 inches deep. Put the dish in the oven to preheat.

Whisk together the eggs, butter, honey, salt, milk, and vinegar in a large bowl. Sift together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ones, stirring until just incorporated. Stir in the corn. Pour the batter into the preheated dish, then pour the cream into the center. Don't stir. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until lightly browned and puffed up on top. Serve hot or cool, but know that the top will deflate quickly.

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