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Thanksgiving, PA Dutch style: Dried corn. November 24, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. As a native Tennessean, I had never heard of dried corn when our friend Ben and I first came to scenic Pennsylvania. Now, obviously, I’d seen ears of dried field corn, and many a kernel of dried popcorn. But around here, when you talk about dried corn, that’s not what you mean. For the Pennsylvania Dutch (that’s “Dutch” as in “Deitsch,” dialect for “Deutsch,” German, not “Dutch” as in Holland), dried corn is oven-dried sweet corn kernels that are then reconstituted during cooking into a variety of dishes that are considered Thanksgiving staples.

Corn, of course, is one of the “Three Sisters” of Native American cuisine, along with those other Thanksgiving classics, pumpkins and green beans. But by Thanksgiving, fresh corn on the cob would have been a distant memory before the days of worldwide transport that for decades annihilated the concept of seasonal cooking and had us all eating fresh corn, tomatoes and watermelon in January. Mercifully, regional and seasonal cooking is making a comeback. So is drying and canning summer’s bounty to enjoy the rest of the year. And that’s where dried corn comes into its own.

As far as I know, there’s exactly one brand of dried corn available for grocery-store purchase, and that’s John Cope’s. Cope’s—located in Lancaster County, the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country—has been making and selling dried sweet corn for more than a hundred years. If your grocery doesn’t happen to stock it, you can mail-order it from a number of sources, including Amazon.com, Farm Stand Foods (www.farmstandfoods.com), and Zingerman’s (www.zingermans.com). Our favorite site was Farm Stand Foods, which is apparently the official Cope’s site and also offers paraphernalia for the Cope’s corn fanatic, including Cope’s theme mugs, decorative tins, and tee shirts (“I Brake For Cope’s Corn”), as well as gift baskets, other regional specialty foods, and recipes.

The recipe page was almost mind-boggling. You can find recipes for Corn Souffle, Chicken and Corn Pie, Curried Corn N’ Tomatoes, Lancaster County Corn Pudding, John Cope’s Baked Corn, Baked Corn Supreme, Cornburgers, Corn Fritters, Baked Corn with Oysters, Stewed Corn, Corn Puffs, Corn & Beef Hash, Chicken Corn Soup, Corn Chowder, Ham & Corn Royal, and Creamed Corn. A quick search revealed that many of these recipes used Cope’s canned or frozen corn rather than dried. But one, the recipe for Creamed Corn, which also happens to be the traditional Thanksgiving dish, uses the dried corn. Here it is, straight from the horse’s mouth:

           Creamed Corn

1 7.5-oz package Toasted Dried Sweet Corn

3 1/2 cups milk

2 tsp sugar

2 tsp salt

2 tbsp butter

Combine Toasted Dried Sweet Corn and milk and let soak in refrigerator for at least 4 hours. Add sugar, salt, and butter. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. (They have a microwave version as well: Mix all the ingredients in a 2-quart casserole, cover with wax paper, and microwave on high for 10 minutes. Stir and let stand for 15 minutes. Microwave on high for 5 minutes, and let stand until the desired consistency is reached.)

If this doesn’t sound particularly fabulous, listen to what the Zingerman’s site (which is quite delightful) has to say about Cope’s dried sweet corn: “Makes the best creamed corn you’ll ever eat. John Cope’s corn couldn’t be more of a culinary secret to everyone outside of Rheems, Pennsylvania, if we’d made a national policy to hide it. Martin Cope made his first batch in 1900, and despite a conspicuous lack of notoreity the company is still doing it now as they were then. They buy corn only during the height of the season, when the sugars are at their highest. Quick to the drier—like olives for oil, one key is to get the corn into production right after picking, before its sugars start turning to starches. The drying caramelizes the natural sugars in the corn, lending a subtle, sweet flavor that’s so pleasing you’ll want to eat it right out of the tin. Anything you make with fresh corn is fair game for Cope’s dried sweet corn.” 

Intrigued? I was, too, especially after reading an article by Diane Stoneback in out local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call, that focused on dried corn and had a bunch of recipes for it, including how to make your own from scratch (well, from your own-grown or store-bought fresh ears of sweet corn). Read the whole article, “Roots in the first Thanksgiving,” at www.themorningcall.com, for fascinating insights into the history of creamed dried corn, its occasional moments in the spotlight (think Emeril, Thomas Keller, and the White House), directions on making your own dried corn, and additional recipes.

Diane Stoneback tells those of us who weren’t raised with dried corn how to make it part of the Thanksgiving feast: “Just top a serving of plain mashed potatoes with a spoonful of creamed dried corn and you can skip the butter. Let the corn’s ‘gravy’ mix in with bread stuffing for a special treat.”

The descendants of the original Copes have their own special recipe that they love even more than the famous creamed corn:

           Cope’s Baked Corn Supreme

1 7.5-ounce bag John Cope’s toasted dried sweet corn, ground in a blender or food processor

5 cups cold milk

3 1/2 tbsps. butter

2 tsps. salt

3 tbsps. sugar

4 well-beaten eggs

Mix ingredients thoroughly. Bake in buttered 2-quart casserole for 60 minutes in preheated 375-degree oven. Serves 4 to 6.

A variation on this recipe made it into Gourmet magazine as corn pudding:

      Gourmet Magazine’s Toasted Sweet Corn Pudding

1 7.5-oz. pkg Cope’s toasted dried sweet corn

4 cups whole milk

1 cup well-shaken fresh buttermilk (not powdered)

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 Tbsps. sugar

2 Tbsps. all-purpose flour

1 1/2 tsps. salt, 1 tsp. pepper

Preheat oven to 350 with rack in upper third. Butter a 2-quart shallow baking dish. Whisk together all ingredients in a large bowl. Transfer to baking dish. Bake until pudding is set, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Cool 10 minutes before serving. Note: Corn pudding can be made 3 hours ahead. Reheat, covered, in a 300-degree oven.

Corn pudding was one of the best things our friend Ben ever ate as a child. He had it rarely—perhaps on trips to the Shaker Village in Kentucky en route to his grandparents’ house—and it was always made with corn fresh-cut off the cob. But, hmmm. I know there’s a box of Cope’s dried corn in my pantry someplace. Maybe I’ll surprise OFB with a Cope’s corn pudding for Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, if dried corn is a Thanksgiving tradition in your home, and you have a favorite recipe I haven’t listed, please share it with us!

(Ahem. As an editor, it just kills me to list recipes in nonstandardized forms—tbs., tbsp., Tbsps., and etc.—in the same post. I don’t care how it’s listed, as long as all the recipes are listed the same way in the same post. But in this case, drawing from many sources, I simply listed them as they were published in each case rather than “fixing” them for consistency’s sake. But please don’t assume I was simply too clueless to notice! The one change I made was to omit “margarine” where a recipe said “butter or.” Margarine is a tool of the devil. Use butter, please! Not that I feel strongly about this or anything.)

          ‘Til next time,

                     Silence

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Comments»

1. Lzyjo - November 24, 2009

WOW! Fascinating! I’ve never heard of dried corn.The Pennsylvania Dutch food scene is SO weird. I just learned the other day from DH that his “chicken pot pie” is not the baked chicken pot pie with the crust that we all know from Marie Callendar’s and all those, the Pennsylvania Dutch version is actually cooked in a pot like the name suggests with huge puffy noodle cut in ginormous squares probably 3 to 4 inches on a side. Weird!!!!!

Oh, my, Lzyjo! I don’t think I’ve seen that one yet. But I have seen some pretty strange versions of shepherd’s pie!

2. Ali - November 24, 2009

Ha ha, tool of the devil. I’ve always called it one of Satan’s evil secrets. I may have to order some dried corn.

Go for it, Ali! And I’m glad I’m not the only margarine-hater out there. We have to keep fighting the good fight!

3. Helen at Toronto Gardens - November 24, 2009

As Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine is likely close to that of the nearby Mennonite community of Waterloo County, Ontario, I hauled out my copy of the classic Canadian cookbook, Food that Really Schmecks by Edna Staebler. Sure enough, she has recipes for dried corn, and even has characteristically entertaining instructions on how to make your own (She writes: “In Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, you can buy dried corn in packages; in Ontario you must make it yourself.”). It’s a great little cookbook for down-home country cooking.

Thanks for the insights and recipes.

And, as for your editing choices, I have one comment: Tsp!

Ha, thanks, Helen! I had to laugh over “Food That Really Schmecks” (though admittedly I don’t know what “schmecks” means); I’ll have to add that one to my must-find list. And you’re quite right that Amish, Mennonite, and Pennsylvania Dutch food share common roots and common recipes. But I’ll bet you can now order Cope’s corn from one of the websites I’ve listed and save yourself the bother of drying your own (which in at least one version looked a bit labor-intensive, I thought).

4. Daphne Gould - November 24, 2009

That is a new one on me. Dried corn to me is something I shuck off the cob and grind for my cornbread (well I don’t grind it but I remember doing it as a kid). The corn pudding sounds really delicious.

I think I’d better add buttermilk to my grocery list, Daphne! I can use the rest of the carton to make buttermilk biscuits on Sunday!

5. Jen - November 25, 2009

I was just talking to my mom on the phone about creamed corn last night. She was insisting that the only way to do it is to leave the raw corn on the cob, cut through the middle of each kernal with a sharp knife, then scrape it off being sure to get all the milky stuff. Then you add a few things and bake. And you are supposed to do this with 8 ears! I think I like the soaking method much better!

When I was in New Mexico I saw a lot of dried corn – can’t remember the name of the dish that’s made with it, but it is YUMMY. (Just looked it up, it’s call “posole”.)

Yes, your mom’s way of making creamed corn is the way we always had it too, Jen, and in fact the only way I’d ever heard of eating it before moving up here. (Creamed corn and fried chicken, oh my!) But if you make creamed corn the way your mom does, it tastes totally different from the PA Dutch creamed corn—it tastes like fresh sweet corn. It’s super-good! Creamed corn made from dried corn is much sweeter, with a darker, more caramel flavor and a somewhat chewy texture. You can’t really think of them as the same dish! I’ve never had posole, but I’ll bet I have a bunch of recipes for it, so I’m going to go check ‘em out. Thanks for the recommendation!

6. diana auguste - November 5, 2011

Just stumbled across this post while looking for a recipe for Cope’s. I grew up in Lancaster and now live in NYC. I’m hosting my first thanksgiving and I HAD to make baked corn (my favorite cope’s recipe) and was so happy to find you can order online (thanks for the tip) because it is no where to be found in New York.

Anyone considering trying it out, DO! You won’t regret it.

Fantastic, Diana! Good luck with your first Thanksgiving; we know it will be delicious! I’ve made corn pudding endlessly with fresh corn, and Cope’s was a real revelation and has become a favorite.

7. Sid - December 10, 2012

To Helen: “schmeck” means taste. Es schmeckt gut means it tastes good. One thing you should keep in mind is that although Amish are Pennsylvania Dutch, the vast majority of Pennsylvania Dutch are not Amish. There are likely many Pennsylvania Dutch recipes that are not in your Mennonite cookbook. Have fun exploring them all. My father was Pennsylvania Dutch (and not Amish) and my grandmother was the best cook ever to have lived. :-)

Thanks for the translation, Sid! And where we live here in scenic PA, there are many PA Dutch, but as you noted, the Amish and Mennonites are just subsets. I hope you were able to learn some of your grandmother’s cherished recipes and coooking techniques!

8. Marcy - December 31, 2013

My grandmother was from Pennsylvania. She moved up to NL, Canada when she was young and got married. But she always got Cope’s Dried Corn shipped up to us by her relatives. We had it every Christmas and every bite was savored because it was a special treat. My grandmother died about 25 yrs ago. Her relatives have sent the corn up for years to us. Now most of them are in old age and are unable to do so. I have found one site to ship to Canada; Healthy Market. But it is expensive. Are you aware of any other site that ships to Canada? We CRAVE this stuff. :) If I were to drive down, I would pack my car full. lol!

I’m sorry, Marcy! I just heard from another Canadian friend about how much it cost to ship things (in this case aquarium fish and plants) to Canada with the tariffs and all. Yikes! I think I’d check on Amazon if I were you, since it’s a global concern. Good luck!

9. Felicia - January 24, 2014

I have dried corn from local (Brooklyn) Asian markets. They are about 1/4 inch pieces. I think they need long soak period. Would the Cope’s recipes be interchangeable?

Hi Felicia! I can’t give you a real answer, since I can’t see your dried corn, but at a guess, no. I think you’d need to pound your dried corn into smaller fragments with a mortar and pestle, or pour boiling water over them and let them steep and soften until the water cools before adding them to your recipe. Then I think they’d be fine. Let me know how it tastes!


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