Corn is not the Enemy

If you’ve ever driven from coast to coast on I-90, you remember Mitchell, SD – home of the Corn Palace. I’ve made the trip many times – and each and every time, as a child with my parents, alone on cross-country moves, or traveling (to somewhere more scenic) with my husband, I seem to end up spending the night in Mitchell. And once you’re there, you really can’t miss the palace. (And these days, if you really want to, you can follow the Corn Palace on Facebook and Twitter.  The image below is from the Palace’s live webcam.) But I can’t say I ever really wondered much about this shrine to maize – any more than I wondered why people buy bumper stickers saying they’ve been to Wall Drug.

Once you start to learn more about our food system though, you end up thinking a lot about corn. The evolution of this crop from food to commodity  – a commodity that is in nearly every processed food, and probably almost all the meat  you’ve  ever eaten,  and in mattress pads,  hand sanitizers and batteries, is well documented. (Don’t miss the movie, King Corn. You know you have a burgeoning obsession when you try to get your spouse to watch a documentary about corn, rather than the new blu-ray edition of the Lord of the Rings.  I lost that one.) And every kernel of that corn is genetically modified.

For three years, I lived in East-Central Illinois, in a brand new subdivision, surrounded, as far as the eye could see, in every direction, by corn fields. But we never ate fresh corn; and I can’t ever remember wondering why not, which I find more than a little disconcerting in retrospect. But the corn was just a part of the landscape – a part I would have gladly traded for a few shade trees.  There were no farmers markets, no farm stands selling it.  The corn we bought at the grocery store was probably grown in New York, Florida, or California. And I know now that the commodity corn would have tasted terrible anyway.

It’s hard not to see a picture perfect ear of corn as the symbol of all that has gone wrong with America’s food system and eating habits.

But  I still love corn.  Both sets of my grandparents grew corn in their gardens, and I can remember how wonderful it tasted, corn on the cob, picked right before dinner. Exquisite – creamy and crisp.  Corn tortillas, corn soup and really, what’s chili without cornbread?  And I’m already dreaming about what the real thing will taste like in late summer when I see it at the farmers market or in my CSA box.

In the meantime though, I’ve discovered a good source for organic cornmeal and polenta – Bob’s Red Mill based out of Oregon.  Bob’s  sources it’s grains from all around the US and Canada, so it isn’t a locavore’s dream, but buying any corn that isn’t part of the monoculture subsidy system feels like an act of rebellion in itself. And that almost makes up for the limes and cashews in this recipe. These cookies taste a lot like liquid sunshine – especially on a rainy day.

Cornmeal Lime Drops*

1 stick butter (room temperature)

½  cup – ¾ cup sugar

2 large eggs

zest and juice from 3 limes

½ cup cashews

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup cornmeal (I used Bob’s Red Mill Organic Corn Grits)

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

These cookies are high maintenance, but worth it. Make the batter one day, chill overnight, and bake the cookies the next. Or if you really can’t wait that long, make the batter, and let it sit in the freezer for at least a half an hour before baking.

Beat together the butter and sugar. Zest the limes into this mixture. Then beat together the eggs and lime juice, and then add to the butter mixture, beating the whole thing, thoroughly.

In the food processor, grind the cashews till they are fine, but not paste. Add the flour, cornmeal, baking soda and salt, and grind together.

Add the flour mix to the butter batter, and mix thoroughly. Chill overnight.

Pre-heat the oven to 360. (Watch the first batch of cookies like a hawk, to be sure this temperature is right for your oven.  If the cookies seem to spread to fast, turn the temperature down.) Roll about a half teaspoon full of batter into a ball (I like tiny cookies. If you like bigger cookies, adjust the baking time accordingly.), and place on greased baking sheets with enough room for the cookies to spread. Bake for 12 minutes, or until the cookies look done.  When the cookies have a thin brown ring around the outside edge, they’re perfect.

Makes about 4 dozen small cookies.

*all the recipes on Eat Drink Man Woman Dog Cat have been tested using  organic ingredients. But it’s tedious to demand them in the ingredient list.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by suzi mccaslin on April 15, 2010 at 3:15 am

    So interesting, and as always the way you write makes it entertaining and informative!! I never thought about corn before. Interesting! And you are so right, when it is good.. it is so good! I am adding “locavore” to my list of words I need to look up! 😉
    Thanks for writing! Tonight, Nestle chocolate chip cookies.. but tomorrow, who knows??!


  2. Hi Suzi – a locavore is a person who strives to eat food only from their local area – people often use a radius of 100, 200 or 500 miles.
    Clearly I’m not a locavore – but I admire the ideas behind the movement; i.e. cutting down on the carbon foot print of food, and knowing exactly where everything you eat comes from.


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