A Corny Post

The Corn Palace

Bird beaks peck away at grains of corn on the walls of The Corn Palace. Still, the murals created with several colors of dried corn and grain arrest the eye. On our trip West we visited this grand monument to farmers and the grain industry they represent in Mitchell, South Dakota.

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A Quote about Corn:

“A light wind swept over the corn, and all nature laughed in the sunshine,” said Anne Bronte, poet and novelist of West Yorkshire, England, 1800s

Corn Sex, according to Elizabeth Kolbert in “The Big Heat,” The New Yorker, July 23, 2012 issue

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Mennonites and Corn

Mennonites in Lancaster County, including the Longenecker family, participated in the whole process of corn production: planting, hoeing, harvesting, husking, canning, freezing – and best of all – eating the succulent grains of corn on the cob, the buttery juice running down our chins and forearms.

In her book Mennonite Women of Lancaster County, Joanne Hess Siegrist features photos of Mennonite women hard at work husking and cutting corn off the cob (pages 124, 124)

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My Mother Ruth loved making her baked corn recipe from the Mennonite Community Cookbook. She served it in a chocolate-brown Pyrex casserole dish nested in a basket of tight weave. We loved every bite, especially tasty during corn season.

Baked Corn Recipe

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Want More Corn?

Pablo Neruda, Chilean poet, diplomat and politician, apparently loved vegetables too. He wrote about tomatoes, corn and more. Here is the link to his poem “Ode to Maize.”

Share something corny here. We are all ears!

Coming up next: Going Male, Amish Romance Novels

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Rhubarb in Grandma’s Garden

Hot-house rhubarb spotted in shop window, Brunswick, GA  January 2015
Rhubarb plant spotted in front of shop window, Brunswick, GA
January 2015

Grandma and I in the Rhubarb Patch

It’s me, pigtails flapping in the May breezes, skipping beside Grandma toward the rhubarb patch. Behind Grandma’s house toward the woods a thick nest of rhubarb stalks stands sentinel over a ridge facing the twelve sweet cornfield rows. In her garden, the pinkish-red rhubarb spears get back-row status but I think they are pretty enough for her flower garden out front.

“You said you are stopped up – didn’t have any luck when you went to the bathroom.” Grandma with her sunbonnet and apron pulls off the biggest pinkish-red stalks, the green heart-shaped, crinkly leaves falling to the ground with one swath of her knife. “A dose of this will fix that.” She’s looking intently at the rhubarb but I know she’s talking to me.

I have eaten Grandma’s rhubarb sauce before, but I never thought of it as a laxative. “It has roughage in it. It’ll really clean you out.” She runs her rough hands along the spine of the stalk to show me the fibers.

“I see,” I say but right now I wonder if it tastes as good as it looks, so I bite into a stalk and find out too late that it has plenty of pucker power. “Eeee-ow. It tastes sour,” spitting the mouthful out on the ground.

“Goodness gracious, you have to boil it first in sugar water to make it taste good, don’t ya know!” She giggles at my ignorance and finishes pulling off more rhubarb stems with a twist of her wrist like separating a stalk of celery from the bunch. Then we head back toward her kitchen.

Making Rhubarb Sauce

The round, dented aluminum pot is simmering on the stove. With every passing minute the mixture of sugar water and rhubarb cut into 1/2-inch chunks is becoming more ruby red. At the last minute Grandma says, “ Just two shakes,” and I flick my wrist to shake the little can of cinnamon twice as swirls of steam half-scald my hand and wrist.

When it cools, it will taste both tart and sweet. That I know!

Rhubarb Pie from The Mennonite Community Cookbook, 2015

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(Adding Strawberries to the rhubarb adds another layer of flavor.)

My Mother's Garden, an embroidered poem
My Mother’s Garden, an embroidered poem in Grandma’s bedroom

What You Might Not Know About Rhubarb

Yes, rhubarb has good cathartic (laxative!) powers, but according to Marion Owen, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul, rhubarb is out to save the planet too:

Rhubarb not only saves our plants from aphids, it may also save the planet. In the mid-1980’s, when a hole was discovered in the ozone layer, researchers found that CFC’s were one of the primary reasons for the ozone’s decline.

One of the most common forms of CFC’s is freon, which is used as a refrigerator coolant. Conventional methods for breaking down CFC’s were costly and dangerous. But in 1995, two Yale scientists discovered that oxalic acid, found in rhubarb, helped neutralize CFC’s. Rhubarb to the rescue!

Marion Owen from Kodiak, Alaska, also publishes a newsletter titled The UpBeet Gardener.

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Beets, rhubarb, memories of springtime in the garden – all are on the table for today’s conversation!

Coming next: Mennonite Girls Can Cook

What’s for Dinner? Dried Beef Gravy and . . .

“Just two generations ago, preparing meals was as much a part of life as eating,” so says Mark Bittman in an article entitled How to Eat Now published in the October 20, 2014 issue of TIME magazine. Although a recent Harris poll reveals that 79% of Americans say they enjoy cooking, probably most get at least a third of their daily calories outside the home. Bittman goes on to show how easy it is to get a nutritious home-cooked meal on the table and includes 3 simple recipes: Vegetable soup which borrows from the freezer aisle, a whole roast chicken with garlic and lemons, and skillet pear crisp recipe which makes for easy cleanup.

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Mother of course cooked two main meals every day. I could count on the fingers of one hand the times we ate in a restaurant. Her recipes were hearty, reflective of the PA Dutch cooking she grew up with, never skimping on the butter.

When I came back from Pennsylvania a few weeks ago, I brought on the plane frozen ham loaf and chipped beef. After the ham loaf is thawed, it’s a cinch to pop it into the oven and serve in a few hours with virtually no prep time.

Preparing chipped beef gravy though, while not enormously time consuming, does require assembling ingredients: dried/chipped beef, butter, flour, milk or cream, and a touch of pepper and then stirring in a skillet on the stove.

Last Wednesday, I pulled out my trusty Mennonite Community Cookbook by Mary Emma Showalter, a book of 1100 favorite recipes gleaned from Mennonite families all over the United States and Canada. Usually, I use Mother’s recipe in my head and knowing the ingredients to what she called dried beef gravy I add a hunk of this and two cups of that, “just what you think” as she used to say. This time though I will follow the cookbook’s recipe for creamed dried beef, which I see browns the beef with the butter.

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Next I assemble all of the ingredients and fire up the stove, beginning with melting butter in a hot skillet.

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Adding the dried beef to the melted butter sends a hearty aroma throughout the kitchen. Then, sprinkling flour over the butter and beef, I create a roux to which I slowly add milk. Depending on your sensitivity to calories, you could use water, milk, or cream. I always use milk. Keep on stirring until the mixture becomes smooth and thick.

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Finally, your creamed dried beef, which Mother always referred to as dried beef gravy, is ready to serve over toast, over mashed potatoes, as you wish.

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Typical Menu

Dried Beef Gravy over Mashed Potatoes

Garden peas

Applesauce

Mark Bittman would probably raise his eyebrows over the amount of butter and flour in the creamed dried beef recipe. And of course this menu is heartier than his lower calorie menu of vegetable soup, roast chicken with pear crisp but, oh, is it delicious!

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For years I thought of creamed dried beef as a Pennsylvania Dutch dish. After all, it appeared on page 58 of the Mennonite Cookbook, 1972 edition. Recently, my sister-in-law Terry told me her mother made the same recipe when she was growing up in California.

How about you? Did you enjoy creamed dried beef (or a variation) growing up? Is this recipe part of your cooking repertoire now?

 Inquiring cooks want to know. . .