Perspective: The Cultural (and Emotional) Side of Food; or, “if they complain, I’m never cooking for them again.”

Pigs trotters on the left and posole on the right. Two of the foods featured prominently in this post.

Pigs trotters on the left and posole on the right. Two of the foods featured prominently in this post.

Food is often exalted as an important aspect of heritage, of culture, and even emotion. Yet, many times, underlying this exaltation is an assumption that food, and especially taste, is inherently biological, that what I think is good to eat is the same for all people. What taste good to me, what looks good to me, tastes and looks good to everyone else. Since I like chocolate and milk and bacon, all others must. These things taste good to me, so they must taste good to you. As such, we are quick to call attention to those foods that are strange or seem even inedible to us as disgusting or gross, and we never think twice about it. By viewing food and taste as inherently biological, we treat these negative words as facts, and not what they are–judgements. Continue reading

Homemade Hominy

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Whole kernel, nixtamalized hominy.

Let us be clear–this post is about making your own nixtamalized hominy, your own boiled maize kernels that have been soaked in an alkaline substrate, which will not only make processing them easier, but will also enhance their flavor. If you simply want to soak your dried corn in water then grind/cook it, this is not the post for you. You may argue that this is hominy just the same, but I’m taking a historical perspective–for centuries, hominy was nixtamalized, maize and alkaline treatment married in a prolific foodway. This may not be the hominy you know, but this is the hominy you will soon learn to make if you keep reading. Continue reading

Food History and Recipe: Hominy Muffins (Rufus Estes, 1911)

On the left, the cover from the first edition of Estes's book; on the right, a later edition with the misnomer that Rufus was the first African-American cookbook writer.

On the left, the cover from the first edition of Estes’s book; on the right, a later edition with the misnomer that Rufus was the first African-American cookbook writer.

Despite recent misinformation regarding Rufus Estes (he was, in fact not the first African-American cookbook writer, but he was the first African-American railway cookbook writer), this recipe for hominy muffins, as well as the life and occupation of its author, provides a fascinating snapshot of the social and cultural associations attached to hominy during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Continue reading

Buying Specialty Corns

Like most fruits and vegetables, there are hundreds of varieties of corn, each with its own peculiarities and nuances. However, I’ll bet that unlike apples or tomatoes, your local grocery store doesn’t carry several varieties. In fact, for most varieties of corn, you’ll have to grow it if you want to eat it.

What follows is not a list of all corns known, but instead specific varieties I’ve been able to source on the Internet. (Most generalized hominy or heirlooms corns, such as “white hominy corn” or “yellow cornmeal” are not included.) Some are from seed companies, where a pound may run $25 or more. Some, though, are more economical. Most of those listed under cornmeal are already ground, and to date, none indicate they were nixtamalized. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

French Lentil and Hominy Chili (Giada de Laurentiis)

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French lentil and hominy chili, from Giada de Laurentis, courtesy of Food Network.

Hominy and beans are a natural pairing–not only do they share a long culinary history, but processing both results in a product with a similar, soft texture that easily absorbs flavor in stews. This particular chili is not only vegetarian, but is also borrows traditional ingredients usually found with posole–cilantro, lime, avocado, cotja cheese, which makes for an interesting flavor combination. For us, we prefer to substitute a hard fall cider for the brown ale, which lightens the overall dish.

Note that you will need to soak your lentils for quite sometime (8-14 hours, or overnight if you prefer), which means you also have time to make your own hominy!  Continue reading

Warm Hominy Salad with Peas, Carrots, and Cilantro and Ecuadorian Hot Sauce (Jose Garces)

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Jose Garces lists this as one of his favorite recipes. This is what he has to say:

When my mom makes this dish in the springtime, she uses fresh garbanzo and fava beans as well as the English peas. If you spy either or both of these at your local farm[er’s] market or Latin grocery, snap them up and add them to the mix: shucking, blanching, and peeling them is a bit of a hassle, but they are fine things (cosas finas), for sure. English peas are often available in supermarkets year-rough; note that when peas are in season, the pea pods tend to produce more per pod and the peas themselves are often larger, so you may not need to buy the full two pounds called for to end up with cups of shelled peas. Also, the size of the peas themselves will be larger when they’re in season. Canned hominy is stocked in [some] supermarkets.

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Historic Hominy Foodway: Poster Presented at the Society for American Archaeology, April 2014.

Philip Georg Friedrich von Reck's 1736 watercolor of a watermelon, the inspiration for my poster!

Philip Georg Friedrich von Reck’s 1736 watercolor of a watermelon, the inspiration for my poster!

You should never get too attached to the posters you make for conferences–they only see the light of day for about three hours, and then they spend the rest of their lives in the back of your closet. Despite knowing better, I was (and still am) really proud of this one–I presented it at the 2014 Society for American Archaeology Conference held in Austin, Texas. The color scheme and the design are extraordinarily me (mistake number two: putting too much of yourself in the poster), and I love the use of quotes to drive the narrative. I also love the use of Guillaume Deisle’s 1718 map as the background! Continue reading

Long Island Country Samp (Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey)

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John White watercolor of an Algonquin man and woman eating a meal, titled, “Man and Woman Eating.”

While samp is another name for hominy, it also denotes a regional take on the dish. If hominy is associated with the South, then samp is associated with New England. Surprisingly enough, both names originate from the Algonquin language. Just how “nixtamalization” is a Spanish interpretation of a Nahuatl word, “samp” and “hominy” are English interpretations of Algonquin words.

This recipe comes from Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey, originally published in the New York Times.
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