It’s Mush Damn It

Originally Published in 2015

“In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue…” so they told us in school. What slipped past some history teachers was the return voyage to Spain.  I guess once you have supposedly discovered something comin’ home makes no difference to anyone, especially those same history teachers.

Now don’t get your knickers in a wad I’m not saying all people with Ph.D.’s in history are nuts. Just some of them. Why several of my friends have a Ph.D. in history and they are not nuts… Now, what makes the Columbus voyage home so important? Why boys and girls it was what was in the cargo hold of those ships. Corn, that’s right CORN.  Until then Europe and in particular that country called Italy had never heard of corn.   That by the way was in the early to mid-1500. It still took them a few years to figure out just what to do with corn.

Corn was originally grown in the mountainous region of the northern part of Italy. Yea, I know who knew there was an Italian hillbilly. I guess I will have to leave that for another time. I have far more important issues to deal with.

Someone in one of those mountain hamlets decided to make a favorite Italian dish called Polenta.  Traditionally Polenta is made with ground Barley, linseeds, coriander, and sufficient salt. That is according to Pliny but Apicius, y’all remember him and the fried chicken don’t ya. Well, Apicius stuck his big nose in it the debate and altered the recipe to wheat flour served with honey.

Back to the mountains of Northern Italy. Someone, a Yankee at that decided to use cornmeal and had the nerve to call the final product Polenta.  I am certain that more than one Native American was not happy over that. Why, because Mush, is Native American, made the same way as the traditional Polenta, but with cornmeal same cooking time, in fact, the same everything.

My response to this and to all those T.V. Chefs who insist they are right and the rest of us are wrong is NO. Not just NO but HELL NO, that’s not POLENTA. It’s MUSH damn it.

To prove my point I will give you my grandmothers mush recipe:

Mush

3/4 cup – cold water (177.5 ml)

3 cups boiling water (709.8 ml)

1 cup – cornmeal (236.6 ml)

1 tsp – salt   (4.93 ml)

First, make a paste with cold water and cornmeal/salt mixture, then stir in boiling water. Continue to cook (stirring often) over low heat for about 20 minutes, then pour into a small loaf pan and chill thoroughly in the refrigerator, until the mush is set. Slice thinly (about 1/2 inch slices) and fry in oil until crispy brown. (We used lard to fry them in but in today’s world, you may use whatever floats your boat.)

Options:

If you have Cracklin’s, that’s the way I remember it but if you have crispy bacon or some dried fruit layin’ around then by all means toss a handful in after the cookin’ is done.

You can serve hot with eggs and bacon or with syrup or sausage gravy, but my favorite is apple butter, preferably homemade.

Now if you see one of those celebrity chefs and you know who they are use this recipe and call it Polenta you can do two things… Scream at the T. V “NO” and then write a proper and polite little note telling them that what they made is Mush. It is of course your Southern duty.

Olive

Below is the original from that Apicius fellow I have been fighting with.

Fried Cream Wheat from the Ancient Romans

Accipies similam, coques in aqua calida ita ut durrissimam pultem facias, deinde in patellam expandis.  Cum refrizerit, concidis quasi culdia et frigis in oleo optimo.  Levas, perfundis mel, piper aspergis et inferes.  Melius feceris, si lac pro aqua miseris.

Take flour [semolina], cook in hot water so that it becomes a very firm polenta, and then spread it on a plate.  When it has cooled, cut it as for sweet cakes and fry in oil of the finest quality.  Remove, pour honey over, sprinkle with pepper, and serve.  You will do even better if you use milk instead of water.

The De re coquinaria of Apicius as found in A Taste of Ancient Rome, by Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa, Translated by Anna Herkolotz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Break the fast – fast and leisurely

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?” “What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?” “I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet. Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said. -A. A. Milne

The BBC History Magazine advises that the Tudors (1600s)invented breakfast (April 2013 issue) – wouldn’t you know that the Brits were responsible? – and The Breakfast Cereal Information Service – History of Breakfast – states that Neolithic Man in the Middle East (late Stone Age 9,000 B.C. to about 3,000 B.C.) used large stones to grind grains to make a sort of porridge.
Roman Soldiers ate porridge – pulmentus – as a staple. In the middle ages, porridge or oatcakes peasants ate porridge or oatcakes in the morning, along with beer, made from barley and hops, though this is challenged by The Morning Advertiser: ‘During the Middle Ages, breakfast was practically non-existent for the masses …’ Unsurprisingly, religion meddled with the pleasure of such feasts – Catholic church leaders believed eating breakfast too soon was a sin associated with gluttony. Spoilsports.
The full cooked breakfast started in the 1920s. The English Breakfast Society says the dish should consist of back bacon, eggs, British sausage, baked beans, fried tomato, fried mushrooms, black pudding ( a must) and toast. This will knock you back some 750 calories, so breakfasting like a king, lunching like a prince and dining like a pauper will be important!
Bacon was included at a doctor’s decree (love that doctor!). Cereals came later, in the 19th century, and like bacon, it was on doctors’ orders. Apart from promoting general health and well-being, there was also a specific medical agenda. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg created granola and cornflakes as part of a puritan diet to suppress sexual desire and lead America away from sin: breakfast cereal was intended to save us from masturbation. But the real advantage of breakfast cereal is its convenience. Cost also plays a part – bacon and other meat products can be expensive. The ‘full Monty’ is terrific at weekends and when one doesn’t have to go to work – oh, the irony, as cooked breakfasts in general were brought about the advent of the 9-5 working routine!
Favourite things for breakfast? Fruit, Greek yoghourt, croissants, scrambled eggs, crisp bacon, roasted tomatoes, mushrooms, black pudding(!) and everything else you can think of! Taken later in the morning, with fun company. Try some cream cheese delights or yeast-free rolls to accompany the fruit and yoghourt and eggs, or smoked salmon.
Cream Cheese Delights
3 eggs, separated
100g/3½ ozs cream cheese
Pinch fine sea salt
1 tsp. baking powder/cream of tartar. (Optional)
Oven 150C 300F

Whip the egg whites and salt till stiff.
Mix the egg yolks and cream cheese till smooth. Add baking powder or cream of tartar (or not).
Fold in the egg whites.
Drop medium-sized spoonsful onto greaseproof paper on a baking tray.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 20-25 minutes.
If wished, sprinkle sesame seed (packed with selenium) or poppyseeds, sunflower seeds, chopped nuts, on top before baking. Haven’t tried chopped bacon on top, but it’s a thought …

Yeast-free Rolls

I cup/250ml/8fl.oz flour
1 tsp baking powder (or use Self-raising flour)
½ cup/125ml/4fl.oz milk
2 tbls/30ml/1fl.oz mayonnaise – good quality or homemade mayo
Oven 160C/350F

Stir the milk into the mayonnaise till smooth.
Mix the flour and baking powder (if used) and stir in the milk/mayo mix – gently.
Spoon into a greased muffin pan. I line with individual paper cups to save the bother of greasing the tin!
Bake for approximately 15 minutes. Serve warm.

Baked egg and bacon is quick, easy and tasty, too.

1 egg per person
1-2 slices lean streaky bacon
Sliced tomatoes
Fresh parsley
Oven 160C/350F

Line each muffin compartment with the streaky bacon, covering the base too.
Put a slice of tomato – or sundried tomato is tasty too – in each base
Break an egg into each compartment
Top with another tomato slice
Bake for 15-20 minutes till the egg is cooked to your liking. Serve with fresh chopped fresh parsley.
Variations: add grated/sliced/chopped cheese – a good Cheddar, blue cheese, Manchego, Brie, Camembert, goat’s cheese – before putting in the first slice of tomato; add fresh herbs of your choice; add Worcester sauce or Tabasco to taste before adding the egg; add chopped (cooked) mushrooms.
Don’t spoil it with tomato ketchup or brown sauce unless you have made it yourself!

For a grander affair, have plates of smoked salmon, cheeses, cold meats. A savoury bread and butter pudding made with stale croissants is a winner too.

4-6 stale croissants, depending on size, sliced lengthways into 3 or 4 pieces
4 large eggs, beaten
¾ pint/12fl.oz/375ml/1½ cups milk
Greek yoghourt
Black olives, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, crisp bacon pieces, cheese(s), chopped spring onion/scallion, sliced (cooked) mushrooms – and anything else you fancy

Mix the eggs, milk, yoghourt together. Season with black pepper. Add salt when eating – the olives, bacon and cheeses might prove sufficiently salty
Arrange the slices of croissant to slant, almost upright, with whatever you have chosen (preferably all the tasties!) for the savoury elements scattered between each slice.
Pour over the egg mix, leave to stand for five minutes.
Bake for 25 minutes or so till risen and golden.
Serve hot with plenty of fresh, chopped herbs.

Fresh orange juice – worth squeezing it yourself (delegate!) – fresh coffee, herb tisanes, a bottle of bubbles, a table in the garden … enjoy. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day The doctor says so.

References:
April 2013 issue of BBC History Magazine
The Morning Advertiser
Breakfast Cereal Information Service – History of Breakfast
MASHED – The secret history of breakfast

 

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