When I was a little girl, my grandfather had a large garden down by the Savannah River. It was situated between the river itself and a stand of trees. There was an old homestead, really an old, rundown fish shack with an ancient rusty pump for water. The soil was deep black, soft and fine-grained, a result of the years of silt washing downstream through the river basin. My sister and I would play alongside the garden or fish in the river while my grandfather worked in the field. There is something magical to me about a field of corn. Some varieties loom high, reaching into the blue summer sky. The rows are tight and the long, ribbonlike leaves blow in the wind, creating a seemingly impenetrable fortress.
I was scared to death of the cornfield when I was a child. And, truth be told, I’m not in a hurry to get into a patch of corn as an adult. My grandmother scared the mess out of me telling me not to go into the corn as a child. She’d admonish, “Don’t go in there; you might get on a snake.” For those of you that might chuckle at that fear, I only add that my home state of Georgia is also home to all five deadly poisonous snakes in North America, and that riverside gardens seem to be an especially hospitable habitat for them.
My grandfather would harvest the corn and bring it up from the river in great burlap sacks. We’d ride up the hill, and once we were home, he would empty a mountain of corn under the carport. When corn comes in, it comes in a deluge! It would be all hands on deck to shuck it. The women of the family would take it inside to wash away the silks, cut the corn kernels off the cob and then scrape the milky juice from the spent cobs with the back of their knife. The majority of the corn was bagged to freeze and later enjoy throughout the year, but there was always a simmering skillet of creamed corn at every meal when the corn was at peak season. And, while creamed corn is a wonderful treat at Thanksgiving, there is simply nothing like farm-fresh corn just picked, shucked and creamed in a matter of hours. Candy doesn’t taste as sweet. My grandmother always cooked it with a bit of bacon or bacon grease that created the perfect marriage of sweet and salty. And, while it is named “creamed corn”, there is not a drop of cream in this dish — the creaminess comes from the starch in the corn, not the addition of heavy cream.
Creamed corn in the summertime is more than a side dish to me. It’s down-home comfort in the best of ways. It feeds both my heart and my stomach.
Bon Appétit, Y’all!
Get the Recipe: Creamed Corn with Bacon
Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.