Corn

Without Grandma's "Angel Corn," Is It Even Thanksgiving?

A magnificent excuse for a vegetable.

November 14, 2018
Photo by Rocky Luten

Reading the ingredients list of my grandmother's corn pudding recipe (frozen corn, Ritz crackers, a whole stick of butter, enough cream to drown a cat), you may ask yourself: Is this one of those oldfangled, topped-with-something-boxed, unapologetically rich Thanksgiving dishes? You bet. Would it taste better made with fresh, in-season corn? Probably. Has that stopped me from spooning a heaping portion onto my plate everything fourth Thursday in November for the past 30 years? Nope! And it never will.

“Angel corn” has been a part of my family’s holiday spread as far back as I can remember. Growing up, it was like crack to me, my sister, and my cousins—a magnificent excuse for a vegetable. As far as kid-approved sides go, it was right up there with Grandma’s pineapple-strawberry jello mold, which somehow passed for fruit and was inexplicably laid out alongside the turkey instead of the pumpkin pie.

In my memory at least, Grandma made angel corn every single year she hosted the holiday, and then my mom and Aunt Laura carried on the tradition after the baton had been passed their way. (Coincidentally, this was the year after an incident involving salt in the sugar bowl and some inedibly salty-to-the-point-that-we-all-spat-it-out unfortunate whipped cream.) Even when we celebrated with my dad’s side, which had its own set of nonnegotiable dishes, I’d beg my mom to make angel corn and bring it. All of which is just a long-winded way to say, for me, it simply wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without this take on corn pudding.

As far as kid-approved sides go, it was right up there with Grandma’s pineapple-strawberry jello mold, which somehow passed for fruit and was inexplicably laid out alongside the turkey instead of the pumpkin pie.

So naturally, on the first year I’m officially hosting our family’s Thanksgiving—complete with Grandpa on the guest list—I asked for the recipe. And I was surprised to learn that angel corn had a costume change somewhere along its journey: I guess one year my aunt tried out a similar recipe that she and my mom ended up liking better, and from there on out, the new version was christened "angel corn," too. (I honestly couldn’t tell you the difference, and neither could my mom. She thinks Grandma might have found her version in the Joy of Cooking, but there’s nothing called angel corn in the newer editions gracing our bookshelves, and we’re both certain it never involved onions or sour cream.)

Needless to say, I’ll be putting my own spin on the whole spread. My turkey will be free-range and spatchcocked, thank you very much, and you won’t find any jello molds. Alongside all the deliciously mushy beige and orange usual suspects, we are absolutely having something bright green and crunchy.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“And I absolutely agree that there are some dishes that I am more than happy to freshen up and drag into the 21st century. The green bean casserole is my line in the sand. When it's not Thanksgiving, sure, let's play with it. On The Day, though, I want it just like it's written on the French's Fried Onions container. Substitutes neither required nor desired.”
— Talicia S.
Comment

But I won’t be dragging our “updated” angel corn recipe any further into the 21st century (even though, clearly, my Grandma wouldn't mind). Because for me, the dish’s old-fashionedness—and of course, the nostalgia of just having it at the table—is the whole key to its charm.

What are your non-negotiable Thanksgiving dishes? Share them in the comments!

9 Comments

Todd C. November 18, 2018
My favorite accompaniment is my Aunt Pearl’s Coke Salad; it’s been on our Thanksgiving table for at least 45 years. Basically, you replace the cold water with Coke when making a large box of cherry Jell-O, and after the appropriate time in the refrigerator, you stir in a a small drained can of crushed pineapple and a small jar of halved maraschino cherries. I’ve found fancier versions of Coke Salad, but I love the simplicity of this one!
 
Abbey H. November 15, 2018
This sounds very similar to the "scalloped corn" from my midwestern grandmother which is one of my Thanksgiving FAVORITES and I've never encountered anyone else who serves anything like it. Layer of creamed corn, layer of brown sugar, layer of ritz or saltines and layer of butter. Repeat until the dish is full and bake until bubbling.
 
Author Comment
Cory B. November 15, 2018
Yum! Yes, that sounds very similar :) I looked everywhere for similar recipes trying to figure out what the earlier version would have been, I'm going to try looking up scalloped corn, thanks for the tip!
 
Meredith F. November 17, 2018
I agree. This sounds like my grandma's scalloped corn. I don't know where she got the recipe, but she was from Oregon.
 
lennylou November 19, 2018
Yep, scalloped corn. And I *love* it. This was one of my grandma's favourite recipes, and it showed up every holiday, and sometimes throughout the year. My mom, who is in her 80s, still makes it, and I've made it occasionally. After seeing this article, I plan to make it this year, because I'm craving it now! Thanks!
 
Paula November 14, 2018
My mom's dressing is the one dish we couldn't do without. It's not fancy, sadly there is no recipe, but it is de rigueur at our house. In fact, each and every one of my dad's sisters has a "must have dressing recipe" according to their family albeit none are the same. I can recall more than one Thanksgiving that had no fewer than three kinds of dressing!
 
Author Comment
Cory B. November 15, 2018
Every family has that one thing! What do you guys put in your dressing?
 
Talicia S. November 14, 2018
This sounds awesome. And I absolutely agree that there are some dishes that I am more than happy to freshen up and drag into the 21st century. The green bean casserole is my line in the sand. When it's not Thanksgiving, sure, let's play with it. On The Day, though, I want it just like it's written on the French's Fried Onions container. Substitutes neither required nor desired.
 
lennylou November 19, 2018
Exactly! There are many recipes I've updated or changed to lower the fat or calorie counts. But on holidays, I always stick to the family recipes, and not just because those are the flavours we all love. It gives me joy to know that I'm cooking or baking the same foods that generations of my family before me have loved. When I'm cutting out molasses cookies for Christmas, I look down at my hands and I can *see* my grandma's hands, my great grandma's, my mom's, my aunt's, all making these cookies before me... it feeds my soul as much as the foods feed my family.