Wednesday, March 25, 2015

An Interest in Corn Flour.

I was briefly excited yesterday when I thought that yesterday’s source, A war cookery book for the sick and wounded, included a recipe for scones made purely with corn flour. I was mistaken, I misread the recipe. I don’t believe I have ever seen a recipe for scones made purely with cornflour, and I thought it might be really useful for my friends who are gluten intolerant. Sorry folks.

The error did send me on a bit of a mission however, – to find interesting dishes based on cornflour – not yellow corn meal, but the very fine very white very pure starch made from corn (which is maize, as you know.) My first reading of the day was The Journal of Agriculture, Vol. I (London, May 1828-Aug 1829) and it contained a rather long discussion of a paper called:

A Treatise on Cobbett’s Indian Corn, containing Instructions for propagating and cultivating the Plant, and for harvesting and preserving the Crop; and also an Account of the several Uses to which Produce is applied, with Minute Directions relative to each Mode of Application. By William Cobbett.

The article was interesting – as much for its strong English opinions of French and American attitudes to food as it is as an invitation to consider the uses of maize. I give you a very short part of the piece:

Mr Cobbett directs our attention to the uses of his corn in the making of puddings, cakes, and bread. It would be difficult for Mr Cobbett to write on any subject on which he could not instruct or amuse; but we must fairly tell him, that, in the manufacture of those well-known substances, we do not imagine that his favoured corn possesses a single advantage over the golden grain of his native country. We believe it, on the contrary, to be vastly inferior. In the making of bread, it is known that Indian corn is no substitute for the flour of wheat. In fact, the mixing of Indian corn with the flour of wheat is a real adulteration, not so bad, indeed, as the mixing with it of ground granite and Derbyshire spar (with which we have no doubt Mr Cobbett himself has been occasionally and unconsciously regaled, on his visits to the great city), but quite as bad as the mixing with it the starch, nay, the whole substance, maggets and all, of the calumniated potato.
…. Mr Cobbett, in his comments on those truly home manufactures, puddings and dumplings, and which he reasonably imagines to ‘have come down to us from an age anterior to the Saxon Heptarchy, takes occasion to remark, on the provoking insolence ofvour neighbours the French, who, though the most polite people in the world in every thing else, are the most rude and untractable whenever cookery comes in question. Will it be believed, that they have the unparalleled insolence to call our puddings lumps. of dough. There is something quite astonishing, observes Mr Cobbett at this insolence of the French, who are in general ready enough to imitate the follies and the vices of the English. We have indeed been ourselves a hundred times provoked by the pertinacity of our ingenious neighbours, in this matter of the kitchen. Implore the veriest cinder-Wench of France to deviate ever so little from the established code de la cuisine, and you will plead in vain.
… In pursuing the interesting subject of puddings, Mr Cobbett lets out, that even his friends the Yankees, are not so partial to these dainties as he would have them. “They care little about puddings; but we,” says he, “care a great deal about them. Inmy family we have, in the first place, suet puddings boiled; batter puddings boiled, Yorkshire puddings baked under meat; and baked puddings, in which the corn- flour supplies the place of ground-rice. We have all these puddings in the greatest perfection, made wholly of cornflour.” '‘ Now, this is all well ; but we must not infer too much from it in favour of corn-flour; for the very same good things may be produced at the cost of about three farthings the pound, and in a way to please the taste of an epicure, and all of potato starch. The same recipe which Mr Cobbett gives for teaching the cook obedience in the one case, will serve in the other. “Say to ‘Mrs Cook,’ ‘ here is some corn-flour, cook; make a batter pudding of it.’ She will at once declare it to be impossible ; ‘ Quite impossible, ma’am! I never saw such a thing in my life.’ If she have a a little sense, and particularly if she be saving money to get married, and is given to understand that you mean to have the pudding made, and properly made, she will be converted by the end of the week, especially if you give a hint, that though she is a very good cook, and though you like her extremely well, you MUST HAVE the puddings. Of course, I mean that the corn-flour, in these cases of batter puddings, ground-rice puddings, and Yorkshire puddings, and also of suet puddings, if you make them with plums, is, to have its share of eggs honestly allowed it! I am not pretending, or contending, that the cornflour contains eggs within itself; and therefore I must strongly protest before-hand, against ‘Mrs Cook’ leaving out the eggs, or any part of them, and putting them by from her natural desire, which she so rigidly carries into practice, to spare the purse of her master ! No, no, let us have our due share of the eggs, and we shall have better puddings; I say better; I repeat the word better expressly, and will abide by the judgment of any ten women who are worthy to be entrusted with the management of a family.”

Sadly, to date I have been completely unable to find recipes for Yorkshire pudding or suet pudding made purely from cornstarch.

In my search however I did come across another interesting piece - Recipes used in Illinois Corn Exhibit model kitchen, Women's Building, Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893 by the well-known cookbook writer Sarah T. Rorer.
Much has been said and written on the value of Indian corn or maize as a substitute for wheat, and while many articles have been carefully written, almost all have made the same grave mistake in classing it at par with wheat as a tissue builder; and ignoring entirely the fact, that cornmeal must be kiln-dried, to be easy of digestion, and should have the germ removed to insure its keeping qualities. Corn is the most abundant product we have in America; has many virtues, and for the advancement of these virtues to our own and foreign visitors, the women of Illinois have established this exhibit.

There is a recipe for drop scones in the book, but they are made with corn meal, not corn starch, but I wont hold that against them:

Put 2 cups of corn meal into a bowl. Add a tablesp. of sugar, a teasp. of salt, 2 teasp. of baking-powder and mix it well together. Add a large tablesp. of butter. With your hands rub it intothe flour. Add to this sufficient cold milk to make a batter that will drop, not pour from the spoon. Bake on a griddle in muffin rings, same as you would ordinary muffins.

I have to give you the following recipe from the same source, on account of the jolly name.

Scald 1 cup yellow meal. Beat to a cream ¼ cup butter, add well beaten 3 eggs, then 1 pt.
warm milk, that has been scalded and cooled. Beat, add meal, 1 yeast cake dissolved in 2 tablesp. warm water, ½ cup of sugar, and sufficient flour to make a soft dough. Cover and stand into a warm place until very light, over night better. In morning make out into balls size of English walnuts, place on floured cloth and when light, about one hour, fry in smoking hot fat. Dust with sugar and serve.

Finally, a cornstarch recipe from the book, with a most interesting name, even if it is not a particularly exciting concept.

Heston Pudding.
Moisten 4 even tablesp. of corn-starch. Pour over 1 pt. of boiling water. Cook just a minute. Add ½ cup of sugar and then stir in the well beaten whites of 3 eggs. Turn into a mould and stand away to cool, making the sauce of yolks of eggs as in preceding pudding. When pudding is cold and ready to serve turn it into a serving dish, garnish with quince or apple jelly. Pour around the vanilla sauce and serve.

Still no cornflour-only Yorkshire puddings, but I will keep searching. As a final gift, here are some ‘Plunkets’ which do have a little ordinary flour as well as cornflour.

Cream ½ lb. butter, add gradually ½ lb. granulated sugar. Separate 6 eggs.  Beat whites until stiff, beat yolks, add them to whites, then to butter and sugar. Sift together twice, 6 oz. corn-starch, 2 oz. flour, 1 teasp. baking-powder, and add gradually to the other mixture, add 1 teasp. vanilla. Bake in patty pans fifteen minutes.


Peter Hertzmann said...

To clarify your note in the second paragraph: What British-speaking people call cornflour, American-speaking people call cornstarch. Same product, just different name.

Ferdzy said...

Here in North America we do not use "corn flour" and "corn starch" interchangeably. They are 2 very different things. Corn starch is a highly refined, odorless and basically flavourless starch. Corn flour is finely ground and sifted corn, whether nixtamalized or not, and retains the odour and flavour of corn, as well as a more flour like quality making it suitable for baking. If it is to be used for tortillas it is usually refered to as masa harina, or dough flour, and will have been nixtamalized.