I love this time of year when it seems everything is new and bursting out in bloom. I feel young again, the earth feels new again to me. Its really just the circle of life on the good earth or the spiral. I had a Art Professor in college, David Bigelow, that said that life is not a circle… it is a spiral. That seems right to me. Since then I’ve seen that image in my mind, a spiral ever ascending upwards toward the final turn in life until you are gone from this earth. A bit simple I guess, but why must everything be complex. The best life I have ever know was simple. As I have probably mentioned before, I did the most important part of my growing up in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains. All the strength that my life required, at times it has been considerable, has come from my first five years there on my Granny’s farm. Growing good food, listening to stories in the front yard on Saturday night, drinking sweet tea and eating homemade cake, catching lightnin’ bugs… simple pleasures, that fed my soul. Those first years, I was surrounded by strong, kind, beautiful, intelligent women, who, as far as I knew, ran the world. Men were around and they were also kind and good looking… but not essential, necessarily, to the ongoing day to day life decisions. It would be an understatement to say I came from a matriarchal family, back when that was not common at all, especially in the south, in the late 50′s. So from a young age independence was a part of who I knew myself to be, simple as that. Decisions I can make, asking for help making them… that’s a foreign concept to me. It has caused me considerable “issues” with the various men in my life, some of whom I married. But now 3/4 of the way up my spiral, looking back down at all the springs and summers and falls and winters of my life with the decisions I have made and the consequences, good or bad, that came because of them, I know, I would not change a thing. I would never hit the reset button. I have love and honesty and truth in my life, some of it hard won and harder still to bear, but truth none the less. I have people who share the truth with me, good friends, my son (who is my very breath) and a good husband that can’t quiet believe this life he signed up for. I asked him once why was he attracted to me in the first place, he said you were so different from anyone in my family, such a strong personality I couldn’t help myself. Have I mentioned he is a brave man? Some would say reckless, but that ring of the spiral is 18 years gone, that decision made and tempered in fire, it is unbreakable.
Of course, he also mentioned my cooking as being one of the things that drew him to me, but on our first date he cooked for me, one of the sweetest things he has ever done. I pretty much was a goner by then and he hadn’t even kissed me yet. But way back then he was a skinny man, almost 6 feet and about 145 pounds, skinny, SKINNY man. After hanging out with me for about a year he was closer to 185. I’d like to think that was love but it was probably just my cooking. There were lots of things he did not like, having not really grown up as a southerner. Cornbread being one of those things, if you can imagine, fried green tomatoes being another, because he didn’t like tomatoes. I’ll have to say that Indiana has some of the BEST sweet corn I have ever had, but a good tomato from a southern woman’s back yard garden is hard to beat. Here lately, because spring is in my head, my stomach has been growling for some fresh vegetables that even this far below the Mason-Dixon are not even sprouts yet, I have been hankering for some fried sweet corn and sliced fresh tomatoes and wilted lettuce salad with biscuits and cantaloupe for desert. One of my favorite meals as a child. And the first time my sweet husband had my fried corn I thought he was going to fall over his mouth was so happy. I guess some would think this was a vegetarian meal, it kinda is… except for the POUND or TWO of bacon that you have to fry off first just to make the corn and the hot dressing for the salad.
Make you some biscuits and get them ready to stick in the oven.
Slice some fresh Tomatoes and lightly salt.
Slice up a cantaloupe or 2 and put that out on a platter lightly salted.
The very first thing to do is shuck a lot of fresh picked sweet corn, about 2 to 3 dozen ears, now here is the thing, this is a big production so make a lot… so you have leftovers. And it freezes well after you cook it. Corn fresh picked is one of the best things on earth, but it needs to be shucked right before you cook it and it needs to be cooked within 12 hours of picking it. Once you have all that shucked, cut it off the cob with a sharp knife and make sure you scrape the milk out of the cobs into the bowl. You will end up with about 7 to 9 cups of corn.
First step, fry off some bacon, thick sliced and a good brand. I have actually broiled it off in the oven on a broiler pan so the drippings collect underneath, whichever way you choose, brown it until it is crispy. Set aside on paper towels. Now the best part, pour off about 1/3 cup of bacon grease for the hot dressing for the wilted lettuce. My friend Jennifer McCarter, her Mama called it killed lettuce, but she was from the Sevierville, Tn. mountain area, which is the Appalachians, my family was from the Blue Ridge so they spoke a different dialect of Southern Mountain.
Take the rest of the bacon grease (at least a half cup, I know but its a lot of corn) and put it in a very large skillet, you might have to do this in batches, but just split up the bacon grease as needed. Add 1/2 stick of salted butter and let that melt over med heat until the grease start to sizzle. Pour in the fresh cut corn and let it fry turning and stirring a lot to keep the sugars in the corn from burning. Fry it for 3 to 4 minutes, adding salt and a little bit of white pepper(I don’t really like pepper too much it seems to take over any dish you put it in) I also add red pepper flakes 1/2 teaspoon to add a bit of heat. All you are trying to do is to bring out the sweetness of the corn and let it brown just a little, if you overcook it you will lose the fresh flavor and it will turn to mush. Dump the corn back in your big bowl, and in the same skillet add another 3 or 4 tablespoons of bacon grease and the other half of the stick of butter once it melts on med-low temp add 1/2 cup of flour (this is the gravy part) let that cook until it is a light tan color and gradually add whole milk (3 cups or so) while stirring like the devil with your good arm scraping the bottom to get all that good stuff and let it thicken to a gravy like consistency. Pour the fried corn back in and mix well. Take about half the fried bacon and put it in a food processor and grind it up to a very fine consistency and put it in with the fried corn. If you just crumble the bacon in it gets soggy. Adjust for seasoning, adding more salt if needed (probably won’t need it). I learned that last step when I was going to make this for a pot luck and sent my husband to the store to get bacon and he bought low fat bacon when what I needed was full fat bacon. Needless to say grinding up bacon and putting it in with the corn has turned out to be one of the best changes I have ever made in a recipe.
Stick your biscuits in the oven to cook while making the dressing for the wilted lettuce.
Back where I come from we generally had just iceberg lettuce and spinach in our salads but you could go wild and use almost any kind of greens. Thin sliced spring onions are a must also and a few mushrooms but keep it fairly simple. Crumble leftover bacon on top.
Hot Bacon Dressing
1/3 cup of hot bacon grease in a little skillet 1/3 cup of olive oil 2 tablespoons of minced sweet onion or shallot 2/3 cup of rice vinegar 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard 1 to 2 teaspoons of sugar fresh herbs (handfull) parsley, basil are good
Heat grease and olive oil in skillet add onions and cook slightly, stir in Dijon and vinegar with a whisk add sugar and melt that in, take off heat add salt and white pepper to taste and lastly add fresh chopped herbs, pour hot over salad greens and serve immediately.
Serve the main course of fried corn along with the tomatoes and cantaloupe and hot buttered biscuits. Some people cut the tomatoes up and put them in their fried corn and it is yum!
Pink corn we got last summer at the farmers market!