"Corn provided infant America with a backbone while it was developing the use of its legs. America was growing, quite literally, up the cornstalk." Dorothy Giles
Many Canadians travel south in February and the U.S. is a popular destination. My partner (Mark) and my kids (Eliza and Daniel), and I decided to go "Stateside" as well, over the recent Family Day Weekend. Only we travelled due west instead - to Port Huron, Michigan.
It seemed amazing that after only a 90-minute drive we found ourselves crossing the Bluewater Bridge and arriving at the U.S. border. After arriving there so quickly, we had a 90-minute wait at the gate. I guess a lot of Ontarians had the same idea! It's pretty exciting to suddenly find yourself in another country after having simply crossed a bridge. The signage is all different, the shops are different, the money is different, and the food is different. And speaking of food, that is all we could think about, having had to wait so long for our breakfast.
For this first meal of the day we went where we always go when we visit Port Huron - The Daybreak Cafe. It is a very homey restaurant on the busy main street and it is always very busy inside, as well. They say you should always go where the locals go to dine and this is so true in this case. The place is bright and clean and airy, the service is quick and friendly, the prices are excellent, the portions are very generous and nicely presented, and (the best part of all) the food is delicious. Check out the menu:
You really know you have crossed the border when you read this entry on the breakfast menu: "Breakfast Feast - Hope you're hungry! Two eggs any style, meat and toast with potatoes or pancakes. Also includes biscuits and gravy which can fix any of your cravings." Wow!
After our fabulous breakfast we all waddled out of the restaurant to do a little (OK, a lot) of shopping. We went to a big grocery store to buy some "Quorn" products which is a line of vegetarian meat substitutes which have a very high reputation in Europe, but which are not allowed in Canada for some obscure bureaucratic reason. (http://www.quorn.us) This sounds like it may be made from corn, but it is not. But if you do want corn, you have come to the right place if you are in the U.S..
In the U.S. corn is the number one field crop, by far. And you can really see this in the supermarkets where there are oodles of corn products. Tortilla chips are more popular than potato chips, all manner of Mexican-inspired foods using corn are seen including corn breads and corn bread mixes with "Jiffy Corn Bread Mix" seeming to be the most popular. (http://www.jiffymix.com/)
A couple of years ago Donna, my very dear friend from Alabama, sent me a recipe for "Jiffy Corn Casserole" which is hugely popular in the South. I couldn't find it anywhere here in London but Mark was able to snag some up while in Michigan. I decided to make a Southern-themed dinner and I have to say this corn casserole was a hit. Very delicious! I must make it again soon as it is such a comforting dish on cold winter night.
One of the most favourite uses for corn in America, especially in the Southern States, is "grits". Grits are made from dried corn (or maize) kernals which have been soaked in a lye mixture to remove the hull and soften the inside of the kernal, then ground up to become "hominy grits". They are somewhat similar to polenta, but not as stiff. It is more like a sort of porridge. Wikipedia says, "Grits can be served hot or cold and as a base for a multitude of dishes from breakfast to dessert, depending on the additives. Additives can include salt and butter, meat (especially shrimp on the east and Gulf coasts), and rarely vegetables. It is common for people above the Mason-Dixon line to have sugar with their grits."
Being Canadian, I have, of course, had very limited exposure to grits. But I do have a funny memory associated with the above reference to Northern grit-eaters. A few years ago I was talking with my wonderful friend, Donna, and she just couldn't believe I had never even tried grits. She couldn't imagine such a thing, being an Alabama Southern Belle. So straightaway, she went out and bought me an enormous bag of grits! Then, she mailed it to me. It probably cost her ten times more to mail it than it did to buy it. I laughed when the package arrived. What a woman!
Well, I really didn't know how to prepare grits, so I read the instructions carefully. I decided that beginning by having them for breakfast would be the best way to go. After all, the photo on the package reminded me a lot of a thicker version of cream of wheat and I'd always liked that. I cooked up the grits, then tasted them and was surprised at the extreme lack of flavour. So, I fixed the problem by adding a nice bit of pure Canadian maple syrup. A bit of 'Great White North meets Dixie'. Later that day I emailed Donna to thank her and to tell her I'd had my first grit experience. She was very pleased that she'd been able to expand my culinary horizons. That is, until I told her about the maple syrup. She was shocked. "You're a YANKEE!!!!!" she exclaimed.
I think Donna has forgiven me for this Southern "faux pas" as we have remained very close friends. So, I think - as a tribute to my remarkable Alabama pal - my recipe this week will be for the "Jiffy Corn Casserole" instead of a dish containing grits. The recipe I've chosen is from Paula Deen, the queen of Southern cooking and whom you've no doubt seen on the Food Network. I hope you'll make it and enjoy it. Maybe invite some friends over and have a Southern menu. After all, wouldn't it be fine to bring a little Southern warmth and hospitality to our frosty Canadian days??