Catching stories and fried corn

Danger approaches 16-year-old Shelly Parker’s doorstep in Black Mountain, North Carolina, so she takes off for Georgia’s Lowcountry in Ann Hite’s The Storycatcher (Gallery Books, September 2013). The Appalachian girl—urged by the spirits who dwell in the shadows and forests surrounding her small mountain community to take precautions to avoid the disaster that is imminent—will see and experience things in the island village of Darien that she never imagined. One thing she is familiar with, from her life as the daughter of a serving woman, is fried corn. At the request of her hostess, she sets to work preparing it in the kitchen of her home-away-from-home, just the way her mother, Nada, taught her.

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I was curious, when I read this portion of The Storycatcher, to know what Shelly and Nada’s version of fried corn would consist of. Fried corn, to me, has always included garlic, onions, bell peppers, and corn kernels. I set out to find the closest example of Geechee fried corn that I could.

From my research I learned that Lowcountry fried corn is what I would consider to be homemade cream style corn. I’d grown up eating cream style corn from a can at my grandmother’s house. It pooled on my plate alongside her fried chicken and mashed potatoes with milk gravy. Sometimes it would even appear in one of the divided sections of my school cafeteria lunch tray. And when my husband was at sea during my years as a Navy wife, I would often lack the motivation to cook dinner for myself after long days in culinary school so would turn to my favorite standby before climbing into bed– that sweet, creamy corn, right out of the can with a spoon.

But I’d never eaten it made from scratch, and it certainly had never occurred to me to gather the ingredients to try my hand at making it myself. And so I suddenly feel an intense gratitude toward Ann Hite for leading me to experience what must be the greatest corn concoction ever. It is wonderful! And so simple to prepare that it can be placed on the dining room table in a matter of minutes.

Geechee Fried Corn

5 fresh ears of corn, shucked

3 strips of bacon, diced

1/4 c. onion, small dice

1/2 to 1 c. heavy cream

1/2 tsp. salt (I use pink Himalayan)

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cut the corn from the cob with a sharp knife, working down to the cutting board. I start in the middle, then flip it over and do the other half.

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Turn the knife, dull side down, against the cob that has had the kernels removed. Scrape out all the little corn bits that remain. The corn starches will also be released, which will aid in thickening the liquid in the finished dish.

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Over medium to high heat, cook the bacon in a heavy saucepan or stock pot to render the fat.

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Add the onions and cook them until they are translucent.

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Toss in the corn. Sautè for five minutes, stirring frequently.

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Stir in the cream, a little at a time.

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Continue cooking until the liquid thickens and reduces. It only takes a few minutes. I just cooked it until the kernels were tender and the starch had cooked out.

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Season with salt and pepper and serve.

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I can think of all kinds of fabulous things to add to this general recipe, such as cumin or cayenne, bell peppers or jalapeño, garlic, andouille sausage…

Yield: 8 servings.

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