Food & Drink

‘Corn’ cookbook brings taste of the heartland to your kitchen

By Joan Leotta

For The Sun News

This is one of cookbooks in the University of North Carolina's Savor the South series. Although corn is an ingredient that is all-American in scope, there is no doubt that the South has a special relationship with this gift from the indigenous people. On the cob, off the cob, in puddings, bread, ground into meal or grits—corn literally forms a base and/or acts as the zippy sidekick for much of the South's best-known meals.

Author, Tema Flanagan writes, "Without corn, the South would cease to taste like the South."

She was selected to put together this little gem of a book due to her background handling the corn in the field as well as in the kitchen. She is a farmer at The Farm at Windy Hill, a sustainable production and teaching farm in Alabama, and has co-written (with Sara Foster) the cookbook, Sara Foster's Kitchen.

The series' signature delving into what particulars of the ingredient make it historically southern is particularly interesting in this volume. In the case of corn, we learn about how the Native Americans introduced it and how those who settled in the South brought their African and European touches to the food to make it into the treat we enjoy today.

Flanagan also takes us beyond the heritage of corn and offers recipes that emphasize the versatility of the ingredient from skillet cornbread to tortillas to classic grits dishes, to popped corn sweetened with molasses and of course, corn liquors. There is even a sweet corn ice cream! She reaches out for global inspiration but the focus remains primarily and deliciously on the South. Her tips on selecting corn are great as well

This collection of corn recipes relies on seasonality (fresh to frozen to using flour and grittier corn meals when fresh is not available) for its organization. While this is not my favorite way to search for recipes, I found it easy to use in the case of corn—the categories are: ON and Off the cob (fresh) Dried and Ground, Nixmalized and Popped and Mashed and Fermented. (Nixtamalized refers to a process for the preparation of maize (corn), which means the corn is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater, washed, and then hulled. Hominy is one example.)

I love the way Flanagan explains the differences between polenta (Italian corn meal) and grits (classic southern ground corn). I am always searching for a better-than-the-way-I-do-it recipe for classic dishes, so have chosen to share her take on Classic cheese grits. (see below) If you like corn, then this is a book to add to your collection!

At A Glance

Title | Corn: A Savor the South cookbook

Author | Tema Flanagan

Publisher | University of North Carolina Press

Cost | $20

Classic Cheese Grits Recipe

by Tema Flanagan, reprinted with permission of author and North Carolina Press

Serves 4-6 as a side


4 cups chicken stock (preferably home made)

1 cup whole milk or half and half

1 Parmesan rind (optional)

1 teaspoon sea salt plus more to taste

1 cup stone-ground grits

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

Freshly ground black pepper to taste


Place the chicken stock, milk (or half and half), Parmesan rind, (if using) and sea salt into a saucepan over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Slowly stir the grits into the boiling stock mixture and reduce the heat to a simmer, Cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until the grits are thick, creamy and tender. (about 30 minutes).

Add the shredded cheddar cheese and red pepper flakes. (if using) and stir until the cheese is fully melted and incorporated. Remove the grits from the heat, discard the Parmesan rind, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve warm