05 January 2010

An old gift

So you may have noticed I blew my deadline this week. If I told you that on Monday, when I usually make my post, I woke up at 3:30 am after about 4 hours of sleep, spent about 8 hours in airports or airplanes with my 15-month old, while battling a cold, would that be a good excuse?

Hope so, because I wanted to share a little gift I got while spending Christmas and New Year's with our families in Oklahoma. We all received so many gifts from our generous relatives. I have to say, though, one of the things I will treasure most wasn't a gift at all, but more like passing on of something that may have otherwise been destined for the recycle pile. It was a yellowed note card in my grandmother's handwriting. We call her Mom, and to the surprise of most everyone outside of the family, this has never been confusing. Mom was never an avid cook. She raised three Baby Boomer boys through an era of deep freezer foods, Jello salads and canned produce. She was always the hostess and made appetizers like celery stuffed with pimento cheese.

She and my grandfather, Pop, who are 83 and 85 respectively, recently moved out of their home of more than 40 years. It was a sad event to see them leave the house where they'd hosted those countless family holidays. And the magnificent, over sized lot where their ranch house stood. There was a magnolia tree in the front where, perched on various branches, my cousins and I spent lazy summer afternoons. And the backyard was a forest compared to my family's newly-built subdivision lot, and it made for the best Easter Egg hunts on the planet.

That recipe card was for a dish called Wild West Corn. It's a silly name for what I gather would have been a ubiquitous dish in its era. It's basically cream cheese, milk, corn and peppers, served in a casserole.

I decided to make it last night to go along with our pulled pork sandwiches, and while I was warming the cream cheese and milk, I began to think about how out of place this recipe seemed at the moment. The trendy cooks today look for non-GMO corn, preferably fresh and in season. Hiding it in cream cheese would seem inappropriate to say the least. But that's how recipes from another decade can seem. Out of context, they can be meaningless.

It comes from an era where weeknight dinners at Applebee's weren't even an option. And many women cooked for their families every meal, seven days a week. And these were Boomer families with several kiddos. It only makes sense that you'd depend on a few dishes that came from pantry staples, were cheap, fed a crowd and the kids would eat.

Obviously, Mom thought this recipe was good enough to copy and add to her recipe file. I don't know how much she actually made it, and I don't remember ever eating it at her house. It wasn't bad, but, not surprisingly, it tasted like corn and cream cheese. I sauteed chopped onions and red pepper instead of pimentos, and I left out the chilies in hopes Jasper would like the dish.

I'm passing this recipe on to you not because it's the latest thing to wow your dinner guests with. But read through it and think about what recipes you'll be passing on to your future generations and what they say about your family right now. And if you do want to make it, I suggest getting a little creative. Add some spicy sausage, cheddar cheese, frozen hash brown potatoes. Or make it in the summer with fresh corn and just enough cream cheese to hold it together.

I'll treasure this old recipe card, and not because of the dish, but because when I hold it in my hands, I'm linked to a kitchen so foreign and so close to me. It's a way to remember where I came from and a reminder of the cook I want to be.

Wild West Corn
Margaret "Mom" McFall

1 8-ounce package of cream cheese
1/2 cup milk
1 4-ounce can green chilies, diced
1 2-ounce jar of pimentos
1 teaspoon salt*
2 cans whole-kernel corn, drained**

Melt cream cheese and milk, stirring constantly. Add remaining ingredients. Pour into buttered casserole dish. Bake 30 minutes, uncovered at 350 degrees. (Double for a 9-by-13-inch pan.)

*If using frozen corn, add additional salt to taste.
** I used about five cups of frozen corn instead of the canned.


Ann said...

Aww...I have so many recipe cards like that from my grandmothers. Even if they're not something I'd make all the time, it's nice to think that I could make something just like they made.

The Blue Suitcase said...

I love this beautiful blog, Amy!