Way back when, in Colonial America, corn pudding was such a staple for English settlers, “pudding time” was another way of saying supper. In a lot of ways, this old-timey recipe was a lot like contemporary polenta: cornmeal and water, boiled. But instead of a pot, it was in a cloth sack, hung over a fireplace. Sometimes milk, eggs, and molasses made an appearance. Or flour, salt, and sugar, if they were available.
Today’s corn pudding is a totally different story.
Fast-forward to 1976 when Southern cookbook author Edna Lewis published her now iconic Taste of Country Cooking, including a recipe for corn pudding. Surprise: There’s not a speck of cornmeal involved. Instead, Lewis calls for: fresh corn kernels, sugar, salt, eggs, “rich” milk, melted butter, and nutmeg.
Fast-forward to 2018: Corn products lead the way. Kraft’s corn pudding includes: canned whole-kernel corn; canned cream-style corn; corn muffin mix; sour cream; butter; and eggs. This is super similar to Jiffy’s spoon bread casserole. And Allrecipes.com’s Grandma’s Corn Pudding.
My version is Edna-esque—with a few curveballs. Here’s how we’ll do it:
’Tis the season! Is there anything better than summer corn? Sure isn’t. Buy the freshest you can get your paws on and use as soon as possible. Can you make this with canned or frozen corn? Probably, though I haven’t tried that. Come fall and winter, you can bet your bottom dollar that I will.
Like a Southern chess pie, which uses cornmeal as a thickener, I wanted to add cornmeal here for a couple reasons: 1) It provides some structural insurance and makes the end result easier to portion and serve. 2) It underscores that corny flavor.
Heavy Cream and Buttermilk
Consider it the best of both worlds. Heavy cream brings custardy richness. Buttermilk keeps that high fat content in check—most supermarket-available buttermilks are low-fat—and brings a very welcome tang.
None here! Good corn is plenty sweet, and we want to give the recipe's savory elements a chance to shine. Wait, what savory elements? you wonder. Well, I'm so glad you asked...
I like sharp-as-possible white. But you are in charge of your casserole. Maybe you want a mellower variety. Maybe a yellow variety to amplify the corn. Or maybe you want to do another cheese entirely. Say, fontina or provolone or young Gouda. In any case, the amount here is subtle; the cheese shouldn’t overpower the corn, but complement it, like a thumbs up or pat on the back.
Onion and Garlic?!
Indeed, these are not traditional. Nor are they contemporary either. But they are good! Sautéeing the onions and adding the garlic to the hot pan tames their bite, but keeps their savoriness. If garlic isn’t your thing, feel free to drop it. If alliums are your thing, some chives would be good here, too.
Mustard and Hot Sauce
We’ve got a lot of dairy going on here. A little bit of ground mustard and hot sauce (only 1 teaspoon each!) goes a long way in taming all the buttery, creamy richness. Of course, feel free to decrease or increase to taste.
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
- 1 large white or yellow onion, finely diced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more for the onions
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed, peeled, and minced
- 1 teaspoon ground mustard
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 3 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce
- 3 cups fresh corn kernels (from about 4 cobs)
- 3/4 cup grated sharp-as-possible cheddar
- 6 tablespoons cornmeal
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
Have you made corn pudding before? Or tasted it? What was it like? Tell us in the comments!