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My Mother’s Kitchen – Sybil Taute Bengston’s cornmeal mush

Corn!

by Judy McCutcheon

daughter of Sybil Taute Bengston

Years ago farmers ground their corn through a small meat grinder to make “cornmeal mush.”  Some saved some of the best corn ears from the harvest for cooking mush.  Some raised white corn specifically for mush, but this was considered “elitist.”

A two-row corn planter was used to plant the corn kernels.   In order to get rid of the majority of weeds, it was ”checked,” planted in equally spaced rows so that later a cultivator could be driven between the rows from two directions. Later, corn was “drilled” (not equally spaced and only cultivatable from one direction) but it had more weeds.

These were the days before insecticides and herbicides!  One yearly job where the whole family helped out was cutting out cockleburs, sunflowers and hemp from the corn rows during the corn’s tasseling stage. It was a painful process. Our family would walk up and down the seemingly “never-ending” rows of corn through head-high plants our hoes at the ready. It was always a hot, dirty job with the corn leaves constantly brushing our exposed hands and faces, leaving nicks and scratches. I’m sure the kids did a lot of complaining!

Corn was picked by hand till after WWII. My brother Zearl still had his old husking mitt when I visited him a few years ago. My husband, Ted, was a “good picker” and could pick 100 bushels a day. As each ear was twisted off the dried stalk, it was tossed into a wagon pulled by horses who stayed close, obeying commands made by the picker. The corn wagons had a tilted “bang board” (sideboard) that helped keep the corn in the wagon. A good picker never watched the corn go in; sometimes men had to go out to “glean” a field if they missed the wagon too much!

When I was small, little cildren not yet in school would ride in a box in the front of the corn wagon. Both husband and wife picked in Grandma and Grandpa Taute’s farming days always trying to beat the winter snows.

Harvested corn was used for animal feed rather than a cash crop.  And, of course, it was also ground and made into mush for breakfast.

For those who do not have a small meat grinder to make fresh cornmeal, use the recipe below, by Sybil Bengston.

Cornmeal Mush

Follow the cornmeal package directions. Always mis the dry cornmeal with an amount of cold water so that when you add the dampened meal to boiling water, you won’t have lumps.

The package should tell you how long to cook it, maybe three or four minutes. Add a small amount of salt and serve in a cereal bowl with milk, half and half, or cream plus a little corn syrup. If any “mush” is left over, place it in a container so you can slice it 1/2 inch thick and fry it like a pancake. Works fine!

Frozen Sweet Corn

1 gallon cut corn (fresh from cob)

4 cups water

4 tsp canning salt

3/4 cup sugar

Bring salt, water and sugar to boil in large pan. Add corn. Bring to a boil again and boil till liquid turns clear. Cool. Package and freeze.