Unusual Corn Casserole

(recipe at end of post)

This recipe is part of my spouse’s holiday tradition. When I’ve mentioned it to people I’m surprised at how many use the same or a slightly varied recipe. We all think it is something that was handed down through our own family, and known only to our clan.

Several versions of this recipe are available on the internet but it seems to be regarded as a very homespun domestic recipe and is not included in classic cookbooks such as The Joy of Cooking (at least not in the 1975 version, though it does have an old version of spoon bread). However, variants of it show up in school and church cookbooks (e.g. Our Best Home Cooking from the Glenside United Methodist Women, and Parkway Faculty Favorite Recipes, from a St. Joseph school). Its primary appeal is the ease of use – only a handful of ingredients and things that can easily be kept in the pantry or fridge. Two are canned goods and a third is a box mix. The popularity of Jiffy mixes is passed along by word of mouth or from parent to child. The company does not advertise. It has not needed to.

Hilary Cadigan, writing on the recipe in Bon Appetit traces the earliest mention of it to a grocery store in the 1950’s. Cadigan, like many people, assumed it was a family recipe. The head of Jiffy told her he hears that all the time – people contacting the company sharing something they think is original. The use of canned and boxed ingredients might be a reason why it might be considered both common and created. Like Christensen’s scrapbooks it is intended primarily for use at home or perhaps for sharing with friends and extended family (church dinners and the like), homey not fancy. The ingredients are too commercial and accessible to need much culinary skill, and this is something that a harried household cook might throw together after looking to see what was in the cupboard on a particularly hectic night when provisions were running low.

And yet, there are very deep historical roots within this plain, quick, holiday dish. While there is an expression that something is “as American as apple pie” that really isn’t correct as apples were a European transplant. Corn and pumpkin are native plants, so “as American as pumpkin pie” or “as American as corn” would be more accurate statements. Amelia Simmons, in her 1796 book American Cookery, includes three corn-based recipes “Nice Indian Pudding” (p. 26), “Johny Cake” (p. 34), and “Indian Slapjack” (p. 34). All of these use cornmeal (or Indian meal as Simmons refers to it).

Canned goods started working their way into recipes in the 19th century. Alice Kirk Grierson, the wife of a Civil War soldier, kept a cookbook later published as An Army Wife’s Cookbook. She includes two corn-based recipes, one using a can of whole kernel corn for an omelet (p. 19), and another version of the classic Indian pudding recipe (p. 59). Ads for canned cream corn started appearing around 1906. (The earliest one this researcher could find in the Philadelphia Inquirer was on 29 April 1906). Jiffy began selling packaged mixes in 1930, and introduced the corn muffin mix in 1950. Searching through the newspapers.com database, it is possible to find recipes from the early 1950’s using canned cream corn and cracker crumbs to give it body. One recipe just used a can of creamed corn, a cup of milk and some eggs. On October 9, 1969 the Estherville Daily News (Estherville, Iowa) published a recipe similar to the modern version: can of corn, can of creamed corn, Jiffy mix, eggs, green pepper, onion, with sour cream or cheese on top. It mirrors a pre-Jiffy mix recipe that used cracker crumbs.

However, this recipe clearly has antecedents going back to the newly formed United States. Either Indian Pudding or Johny Cake or Spoonbread, all of which were eaten in the colonies, or some combination, must surely have morphed into what is now made with two cans, a mix, some sour cream, and butter (or margarine); my recipe reduces the amount of butter and adds in an egg.

The recipe is what Kirshenblatt-Gimblett might refer to as a material companion, something that we keep because it provides comfort. The recipe gets handed down through generations, with deep roots going back to colonial days, that provides us with a continuity at holiday events.

Recipe:

1 egg

1 cup sour cream

½ cup butter

1 can cream style corn

1 can whole kernel corn

1 pkg Jiffy cornbread mix

Mix all ingredients together, put into a greased casserole, bake 45 minutes at 350. Serves 6-8.

Bibliography

Cadigan, Hilary. “This Cornbread Casserole Was My Family’s Secret Thanksgiving Recipe…Until It Wasn’t,” Bon Appetit November 9, 2018. Available at: https://www.bonappetit.com/story/family-secret-cornbread-casserole

Chelsea Milling Company. JiffyMix. 2020 https://site.jiffymix.com/

Christensen, Danielle Elise. “(Not) Going Public: Mediating Reception and Managing Visibility in Contemporary Scrapbook Performance.” In Material Vernaculars: Objects, Images, and Their Social Worlds. Edited by Jason Baird Jackson. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992, pp. 40-104.

Glenside United Church Women. Our Best Home Cooking. Collierville, TN: Fundcraft Publishing, 1996.

Grierson, Alice Kirk. An Army Wife’s Cookbook. Tucson, AZ: Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, 1972.

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. “Objects of Memory: Materia Culture as Life Review.” In Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: A Reader, edited by Elliott Oring. Logan: Utah State University Press, 1989, pp. 329-338.

Parkway Faculty Favorite Recipes 1979-1980. St. Joseph, MO: Parkway Elementary School, 1980.

Rombauer, Irma S. and Becker, Marion Rombauer. The Joy of Cooking. New York: Bobbs-Merrill Co, 1975

Simmons, Amelia. The First American Cookbook [A Facsimilie of American Cookery, 1796]. New York, NY: Dover Publications, 1984.

About juliemstill

Julie Still has a B.A. in History and an M.A. in Library Science from the University of Missouri, and an M.A. in History from the University of Richmond.  She is currently enrolled in Penn State Harrisburg's doctoral program in American Studies. Librarian by trade, writer by choice, once (and future?) Girl Scout leader and community participant, she reads history (all kinds), science fiction / fantasy (ranges from Scalzi to McKillip), mysteries (varied), and more.
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