Holiday dinners are about tradition, traditional recipes and taste memories that carry meaning beyond anything our taste buds can comprehend; here are some from my family’s table:
- The yeast rolls from “Mema’s” recipe, almost the basis for a religion (you know I’m right).
- The stuffing/dressing. It.Must.Be.Right. There’s a whole, as-yet unpublished story about the evolution of the dressing in my family, a North-South conflict that threatened my parents’ marriage until it was resolved. I’ll come back to that later, but before Christmas, because I promised a dressing devotee that I’d document it.
- That green bean casserole that no one should like because it has all those extra-processed ingredients – hello, “French”-friend onions from a can!!!??? Someone in my family always manages to sneak that dish in, and they all look at me to see if I will break into food-snob mode and castigate them. This year, I relaxed my standards and had a few bites at Thanksgiving. Surprisingly, the world didn’t stop spinning on its axis. Yet.
- The faux cranberry-something in a can (another anathema to me, but hey, some of my loved ones swear by it, and so does Rick Bragg). To counter this abomination, I actually make cranberry relish from scratch, and I’m usually the only one who eats it. I’m ok with that.
- Sweet potatoes with marshmallow topping (where o’ where did that come from???)
- The fresh creamed corn made from a 75-year old recipe.
That last bit, the creamed corn, is the subject of today’s post. This is serious business. My Dad always made my grandmother Mema’s creamed corn (once she was finished making it; she’s been doing Thanksgiving for the angels since 2000). Dad earnestly took Mema’s recipe and made it his own. The documentation of her recipe is below, from a school project my aunt undertook years ago.
My aunt’s notes below the instructions are a testimonial:
This was the way I had eaten corn all my life until I married. It was a big let-down to try canned cream corn and I have made it a point to use this recipe often.”
I wanted to get the latest take on this, so in 2015, I asked Dad, via email:
Dad – I found Mema’s recipe for creamed corn (from Aunt Lynda). It used corn, butter, water, salt and pepper. I think you said you used cream instead, and white pepper. Is that right?
He was immediately forthcoming, as this was an important issue in the family:
Kim, last year I followed mom’s recipe to the letter and I’m sure you remember it had too much butter. This year I followed my recipe with just a lot of white pepper, maybe a tablespoon of butter and less than a cup of water. Much better.
Dad is gone now. I’m having a hard time believing that he will not be bringing creamed corn every year, or ever again. Last year at Thanksgiving (2016), because of an illness, he was out of the hospital but on a stomach feeding tube, and couldn’t eat – or even taste – anything, but he still made his famous creamed corn. Did I mention that this creamed corn is from scratch, starting with fresh corn on the cob and never, ever frozen or canned – don’t even think about it!
Dad was an amazing optimist; taking a bit of every dish at our 2016 Thanksgiving table of bounty, he made a to-go container that he froze for a time in the future when he would be able to eat again. That time didn’t come. He left us in June of this year, never having gotten clearance to eat normally again, never thawing and enjoying that belated Thanksgiving feast. I miss him every day. But I feel his presence every day, too.
But here I go digressing again. Let’s do the recipe! This year, I made the creamed corn myself for the first time in advance of our 2017 Thanksgiving celebration. Hoping not to create a family controversy, I made some minor modifications to update the classic recipe while preserving its simple elegance. Since no one noticed, I think I’m in the clear. The major differences were that I used cream instead of water, added a bit more of a savory taste with a small amount of sautéed leeks, and the secret ingredient – ground nutmeg.
Using the vintage corn scraper handed down from my father and grandmother, and with their recipe notes as a guide, I was deep in the heart of family taste memories when I made this dish.
Harvell Family Creamed Corn (serves 8-10)
- 8 large cobs of fresh corn
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced and chopped leeks
- 1/4 heavy cream
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. white pepper
- 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg or about 50 scrapes of fresh nutmeg (preferred)
- 1 green onion, very thinly sliced
Shuck the corn cobs and wash off any stray silk. Use a corn scraper or knife to cut all of the kernels from the cobs, collecting them in a large bowl.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, then add the leeks and sauté for 5-7 minutes until they are soft and translucent. Add the corn and “corn milk” and continue to sauté on medium for 7-10 minutes until the mixture is thickened and the corn is soft. Add the cream, salt and white pepper and cook for about 5 more minutes until the cream has thickened. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary.
Serve hot and garnish with the sliced green onion.
Note: The creamed corn will keep for several days in the fridge, so you can make it early. It won’t seem like a large amount, but it is very rich, so a small serving is just right.
The end product is a rich, creamy dish that makes you nostalgic for the old days when life was simpler, people were kinder and you could borrow an egg from your neighbor, even if you never experienced any “old days” in that way.
Check out my post about the usefulness of a corn scraper here, and check out this other blog for the deep-dive into the mechanics of the use of a scraper. And let me know if you make the Harvell Family Creamed Corn for your holiday table.
Copyright 2017, Glover Gardens