OK, as a writer, I know that’s a mixed metaphor, or at least a trick with homonyms. But as someone who divides her time (no pun intended) between the True North and the Deep South, who is a RI Yankee in Jefferson Davis’s court, and is all too aware of the political, religious, and cultural differences, it is nice to have something on which we can agree. Cornmeal is that something.
Rachel, one of my most loyal readers—and eloquent commenters—recently bestowed upon me an honorary G.R.I.T.S. designation, which I humbly accept. For you Yankee readers who, like me, had no idea what this meant when I first heard the acronym, it means Girl Raised in the South. This, apparently, is akin to a secret society, is a high honor, and may even entail ancient rituals into which, if so, I hope to be initiated. There might even be hazing: I suspect that this might include baptismal dunking in buttermilk or partially set Jell-o®, force-feeding of fried chicken, memorization and recitation of the methodology, highly refined over generations, for making the men think they are in god-like charge while the women actually control everything and do whatever they want (a practice for which I may be constitutionally unsuited, but that fascinates nevertheless), and marathon shopping in endless strip malls containing surprisingly exclusive boutiques. Sounds like fun.
In any case, neither true Yankees nor Southerners would be caught dead using anything but stone-ground cornmeal—here in Rhode Island we even have our own revered strain of corn—and we both use it for everything from breading and breads and sweet cakes and some variant of jonnycake to our own forms of mush, which Southerners call grits. And we both mix the latter with cheese, a meltingly good, somewhat decadent, combination. Here, cornmeal is cooked to a polenta-like stage, fried up, and topped with whatever you may please.
Little Cornmeal-Cheese Cakes
You can serve these as cocktail appetizers (topped with, for example, a little chopped tomato sautéed with pancetta; chopped marinated roasted red peppers; roasted figs and onions; or a little corn and tomato cooked in cream), or for breakfast with bacon. Leftovers reheat acceptably in the microwave. Serves3- 4.
1 cup boiling water
½ cup stone-ground yellow or white cornmeal
½ tea salt
½ cup whole milk
1 cup store cheese (good-quality aged cheddar), grated or cut in chunks
Flour for dusting
Butter and oil for frying
Mix the cornmeal with the milk. Bring the water to the boil with the salt; add the cornmeal mixture, stirring, and let it boil and bubble for about 5 minutes, stirring as needed so it does not scorch. It will have a pasty consistency. Cover and steam on low or over boiling water for a few hours, or steam it in a microwave. When quite stiff and pulling away from the pan, remove and add the cheese, stirring until melted. Grease 6 or 8 compartments of a muffin pan and divide the mixture among them, pressing it down evenly with the back of a spoon. Chill for a few hours or overnight. Turn out and let sit a bit to take the chill off. Flour lightly, and sauté in a mixture of butter and oil until golden brown, turning once. You may keep them in a warm oven. Serve while hot.