Polenta: It’s Just Corn Meal Mush

As much as I love corn meal, I have to admit that I did not grow up eating corn meal mush. Made by cooking corn meal with water and a little salt, corn meal mush is very similar to grits – with a little smoother texture. I guess if my mother had ever eaten mush she had settled on grits as her breakfast side dish of choice.  Corn meal mush has been eaten in this country ever since the Native Americans introduced corn to the pilgrims and in many other cultures where corn is a staple.

Often eaten for breakfast as a hot cereal, corn meal mush seems to still be popular in some parts of the country. The mush is sometimes poured into a loaf pan, chilled, sliced and browned in a skillet and eaten with cane or sorghum syrup.

The name, mush, may be off-putting to many who are not familiar with this food item. However, we seemed to have had no problem with the very same thing when it became trendy in the 1980s was called polenta. The Italian name just sounded so much more interesting and acceptable. It’s not surprising that the addition of Parmesan cheese, a savory meat or vegetable topping made this new spin on the image of corn meal mush gain wide acceptance!

It is so easy to stir up a pot of polenta, spread in a pan and chill. Then simply cut into pieces and sauté, fry or bake. Cheesy Polenta Fries is a great recipe idea to get you going.

Did you grow up eating corn meal mush? If so, where did you grow up?  Also, I would love to know how you prefer to prepare and eat corn meal mush.

Pass the Hush Puppies

To my knowledge, no one really knows how hush puppies got their name.  One theory suggests fishermen threw bits of batter from frying fish to barking dogs with the admonition to “hush puppies.” Regardless of the origin of this delicious corn meal creation, many believe you must serve hush puppies in order to have a true fish fry.

Made with Martha White® Self-Rising Corn Meal Mix, hush puppies are traditionally flavored with onion and dropped by spoonsful into the hot oil where the fish were fried. Hush puppies are not limited to accompanying fish, nor are they always little round balls. In some parts of the South hush puppies are served with barbecue or even as an appetizer and sometimes are crescent or finger-shaped.

If you want to create your own signature hush puppy, try adding chopped bell or jalapeno peppers, corn kernels, chopped green onion, crumbled bacon or any additional item you think would taste good. This recipe for Hush Puppies is made with Martha White® Self-Rising Enriched White Buttermilk Corn Meal Mix and a little Self-Rising Flour. This recipe tastes great as is or you can use it as a base to customize your hush puppies by enhancing with your flavors of choice.

The Joy of Fresh Vegetables and Cornbread

All summer and into fall, my mother cooked fresh vegetables every day. The meat was not a necessity, but cornbread was! Now that I think back about those meals, it seems to me we always had some kind of beans or peas – like green beans, lima beans or some variety of peas like purple hull or Crowder peas. We loved creamed corn, which she cut off the cob and scraped the milk, fried okra, sliced tomatoes, slaw and new potatoes, sometimes cooked on top of the green beans.

But the final touch was mama’s cornbread. It was the last thing she made. She put a generous spoonful of shortening or bacon drippings in her large well-seasoned cast iron skillet and put it in the oven to heat.

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In the meantime, she beat an egg, added milk or buttermilk and Martha White® Self-Rising Corn Meal Mix. When the skillet was piping hot, she took it out and poured the hot drippings into the cornbread batter. Then poured the batter into the skillet and put it back in the oven to bake. When the cornbread was done, she flipped it out onto a plate with the crispy side up and cut it quickly into wedges. Oh my, it was delicious. We like cornbread thin and crispy and that was just the way it was every time.

This recipe is very similar to hers. It calls for adding oil to the batter, but you can heat it for a few minutes in the skillet first, if you like. Just be careful. It’s hot!

Do you have any special fresh vegetable dishes you’re creating right now?