This past weekend the Woodland Cultural Centre hosted a workshop on preparing corn for bread and soup at the Ohsweken community hall. The 15 participants were taught a great deal about the many things you can do with corn after it is harvested. We learned how to lye the corn, grind flour for bread, make the bread, how to use derivatives of each preparation and how to make corn husk dolls.
The incredibly knowledgeable Bonnie Skye, whose corn products can be found all over Six Nations, facilitated the event. The wisdom, teachings, and passion of multiple generations of family were brought forward though Bonnie’s humble words and explanations to those in the room. The workshop experience was enhanced with the help from one of Bonnie’s daughters. Their love for one another and their desire to share the knowledge of those who have come before them enriched the collective learning experience of those in attendance.
Having worked in many professional kitchens I have been introduced to some incredible foods that are not always accessible due to rarity, cost, and or technique needed for preparation. The most basic staple foods are sometimes overlooked and their potential not fully explored. By participating in the workshop, my appreciation for the time, energy and love that goes into bringing corn to the table has been deepened. I have a newfound appreciation and respect for the corn plant that is one of the three sisters.
After being in the presence of so many wonderful minds, I feel inspired and obliged to continue to take part in knowledge exchanges that will deepen collective understanding of food and appreciation for the abundance provided by mother earth.
In the spirit of getting back to the basics, here is a savory preparation for cooked cornmeal, mush, polenta, or whatever you may call it. This is not a sweet preparation. Polenta is a delicious flavour carrier for savoury dishes. I’ll typically serve it instead of mashed potatoes with braised meats or tomato and vegetables. I also prefer cooking this in a cast iron pot.
White Corn Polenta
- 1 cup coarse ground corn (regular cornmeal will work as well)
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup grated hard cheese (I prefer pecorino romano)
- 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
- Season your water generously and bring to the boil, turn off heat, whisk in ground corn or cornmeal, turn heat back on to high, bring back to the boil and cover, cook on medium heat for 15 minutes. The purpose of this is to form a golden brown crust on the bottom of the pot so as to give the polenta a nutty, toasted flavour.
- Turn heat down to low and cook for at least 45 minutes adding more water if needed.
- When you have reached your desired consistency (I prefer mine like mashed potatoes), stir in butter and cheese right before serving.
- If you have any left, spread it on a baking tray, chill it and fry sliced pieces the next day.