Food History: 1993, New York Times, “Hominy Still Has a Place In American Cooking”

In this article, published in the Food section of the New York Times on March 7, 1993, food critic Florence Fabricant suggests that there is a “renewed interest” in dried corn in American cuisine. While this renewed interest and, for many, introduction to dried corn stems from an interest in Southwestern and Mexican cooking, Fabricant indicates that hominy has been a part of the American culinary tradition for quite sometime.

Before providing a few recipes, Fabricant first treats readers to a mini-history lesson, noting the long tradition of samp in New England. While she implies the dish stems from an Indian tradition (“It is often called samp, a Narragansett term”), she never actually says it. In fact, you’re left with the impression that it wasn’t really samp until it was incorporated into the Euro-American colonial diet: “They explained that ‘samp porridge has been a great Long Island dish since the 1640’s,'” the “they” in this instance being the Ladies Village Improvement Society of East Hampton, Long Island. (Of course, samp was a part of Long Island’s history long before 1640! Hominy and samp were widespread throughout the historic and prehistoric Eastern Woodlands, beginning around A.D. 1000.)

Ladies Village Improvement Society Community Cookbook, 1949.

Ladies Village Improvement Society, East Hampton, Community Cookbook, 1949.

Fabricant goes on: “Samp, overcooked and underseasoned like much of the food of the English colonies, hardly excites today’s palate.” Indeed. Her solution–“a jolt of spice,” much like the chilies used in Southwestern or Mexican cuisine. Nixtmalization, not mentioned by name, is referred to only as a technique for removing hulls with no mention of taste, while hominy is “simply corn that has been dried and treated to remove the heavy exterior hull on each kernel.” The guidelines she provides for preparing hominy from scratch, for this reason, excludes alkaline treatment–the implication here is that the corn you’ll use does not have the “heavy exterior hull” corn of the past had, and thus all you need to do is soak the kernels in water overnight. (Which is true as long as you use a variant with a thin hull! Otherwise, you’ll just have a mess.)

What I love most about this piece is how liminal it is–to me, this article is squarely positioned between two culinary traditions, that of the waning samp and hominy tradition of the Eastern Woodlands on one side, and the waxing Southwest and Mexican culinary tradition on the other. Well before the early nineties, hominy was a food in decline in American cuisine. Like many Southern Americans in the early twentieth century whose culinary maize knowledge stemmed from Europe, most Americans who know hominy actually know posole, and thus their knowledge stems from a Southwest or Mexican culinary tradition. While Fabricant was unaware of hominy’s deep history in the region (for which I don’t hold her accountable), she is aware that this once entrenched food is being reintroduced to a familiar region through new channels, a phenomenal lesson served over and over again in food history.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s