‘Mush’ is a bit of a mystery to me – me not being American an’ all. I know what it is, of course – it is cornmeal porridge, which has a rather good sound to it – a better sound, I think, than ‘mush’, which sounds like an accident. As you can tell, I became briefly fixated on this word ‘mush’, so had to dig into the Oxford English Dictionary for information. The OED says that it is ‘apparently an imitative alteration of mash’ which is not particularly mysterious after all, unless it leads you to wonder how the word came to be so universally applied to the American version of polenta, or oatmeal porridge, or frumenty. The OED agrees that ‘mush’ is:
“Chiefly N. Amer. Porridge; spec. porridge made with maize meal boiled in water or milk until thick. Freq. in mush and milk, mush and molasses.”
No good cooking concept stays unchanged, however, and in celebration of mush, may I give you two interesting adaptations of the basic cornmeal type?
To make smooth rye mush, sift a quart or more of rye meal into a pan, and gradually pour in sufficient cold water to make a very thick batter, stirring it hard with a spoon as you proceed, and carefully pressing out all the lumps against the side of the pan. Add a very little salt. The batter must be so thick at the last that you can scarcely stir it. Then thin it with a little more water, and see that it is quite smooth. Rye, and also wheat flour, have a disposition to be more lumpy than corn meal, when made into mush. When thoroughly mixed and stirred, put it into a pot, place it over the fire and boil it well, stirring it with a mush-stick till it comes to a hard boil; then place it in a diminished heat, and simmer it slowly till you want to dish it up. Eat it warm, with butter and- molasses, or with sweet milk, or fresh buttermilk. Rye mush is considered very wholesome, particularly in cases of dyspepsia.
Miss Leslie's New Cookery Book (Philadelphia, 1857) by Eliza Leslie.
Pour into a clean pot, two quarts or more of good milk, and set it over the fire. Have ready some pumpkin stewed very soft and dry; mashed smooth, and pressed in a cullender till all the liquid has drained off. Then measure a large pint of the stewed pumpkin; mix with it a piece of fresh butter, and a tea spoonful of ground ginger. Stir it gradually into the milk, as soon as it has come to a boil. Add, by degrees, a large pint or more of indian-meal, a little at a time, stirring it in, very hard, with the mush-stick. If you find the mush too thin, as you proceed, add, in equal portions, more pumpkin and more indian-meal, till it becomes so thick you can scarcely stir it round. After it is all thoroughly mixed, and has boiled well, it will be greatly improved by diminishing the fire a little, or hanging the pot higher up, so as to let it simmer an hour or more. Mush can scarcely be cooked too much. Eat it warm with butter and molasses, or with rich milk. It is very good at luncheon in cold weather.
New Receipts for Cooking (Philadelphia,1854) by Eliza Leslie