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Not to be Forgotten

Corn Fritters

Having removed the shucks and silks from a dozen young tender ears of corn, grate or scrape the grains fine from the cobs, mix with it the beaten yolks of four eggs, two spoonfuls of flour, a salt-spoonful of salt, and a teaspoonful of pepper; mix the whole together, stirring it till it is well intermingled; then drop it by spoonfuls into a pan of boiling butter or lard, making them all as nearly the ame shape and size as possible; turn them over once, and when both sides are of a light brown, serve them up.  It is a breakfast dish, and is quite an agreeable relish. 

--Lettice Bryan
The Kentucky Housewife, 1839


Yes, this is a corn plant from my garden, nearly ready. 

But as to this recipe--it’s a “not to be forgotten” all the way, because not only is it a good thing to make, but also because it clearly bears some African influence, which is typical of the old southern cookbooks.  Dishes like these are a silent legacy of slavery.  Africans brought with them an expertise in frying (and for fritters) and also taste for the piquant, which is obvious in the large amount of black pepper.  So perhaps Mrs. Bryan was documenting the dish from her African cook or someone else’s.  But in any case, she seems to have done a poor job.  This recipe is obviously impossible. She calls for 12 ears of corn and only 4 egg yolks to bind it all together.  Ridiculous.  Ridiculous of course till you realize that this was nearly 200 years ago and corn was surely smaller, but for that matter so were eggs.  (We breed everything so large now.) And how much flour, really is the two spoonfuls?  We’ll never know. 

Don’t get bogged down.  It’s just a concept, and the concept is this:  Shuck your corn, then the take a knife and cut off the kernels.  Mix them together with enough egg yolk, salt and pepper and flour as will hold it together, then fry.  I found the result a little plain, and of course the sweetness of corn today is just sometimes so annoyingly candylike.  So here’s what I did:

2 cups fresh corn kernals (about 4 ears)
1 tablespoon, plus a little more, finely minced onion
2 teaspoons, finely minced flesh of a serrano chile
1/4 cup flour (you might like for half of this to be cornmeal)
1/2 teaspoon (or to taste) salt
black pepper to taste
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons milk or, even better, butter milk
1/4 grated cheddar--optional only if you don’t mind a softer melty fritter

Mix together the first seven ingredients.  Then add milk and cheese if you are using.  Fry on a griddle that is greased with olive oil or butter, until brown on each side.

If I were a chef I’d go to town with this.  I’d hold the cheese and instead, serve a corn fritter as an appetiser with a warm frisee salad and a dollop of goat cheese on top.  Or perhaps I’d serve with a fresh mango salsa.  Or a tomato salsa with cilantro.  Or perhaps some wlted arugula.  My home tasters like them plain.  But not for breakfast.  No way.  Rather, as an “agreeable relish” as Mrs. Bryan suggests.  In any case, corn fritters are an open canvas.  There’s so much fresh corn around now. Try them with left over cobs the next day.  And be sure to eat them fresh off the griddle. 

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