Put the taste of Central Pennsylvania on your table
Every year I try to imagine what was served at the first Thanksgiving dinner.
History books tell us there certainly was turkey — along with duck, pheasant and goose. Venison and seafood, such as oysters and clams, rounded out the protein portion of the dinner. By 1621, the potato, a native of South America, had made its way to Europe but had not made the return trip to the North American colonies, so no yams or mashed potatoes.
One dish definitely on the menu was corn, as it was a staple of the Native Americans. After a summer bounty, corn was dried to be used in various forms over the winter. Because canning and freezing weren’t invented until hundreds of years later, the tradition of drying sweet corn continued to be a common practice for early settlers.
Skip ahead to 1900. On a small farm near Manheim in Lancaster County, Martin Cope, grandfather of John, dried his first batch of sweet corn on a coal-burning stove to sell to the public. For more than 100 years, his descendants carried on his work, and John Cope’s Dried Sweet Corn became a legend.
Because the corn is processed soon after being picked, the sugar inside caramelizes and intensifies when dried. The toasting produces a nutty flavor to complement the sweetness. John Cope’s Corn is not only the best brand of dried corn, it is the only brand. Fortunately, for those who leave the area, John Cope’s Corn is available from online sellers such as Amazon.com.
The following recipe was given to me by a friend who worked for John Cope as a teenager. It is an adaptation of a recipe she received from Irene Cope, wife of the founder of the company.
Baked Corn Pudding
1 7.5-ounce package John Cope’s Dried Sweet Corn
11/2 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons sugar
Dash of white pepper
2 tablespoons cornstarch
5 cups whole milk, divided
5 eggs, beaten
4-5 tablespoons butter
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grind the entire package of dried corn in a food processor. Spread the dried corn in a greased 9-by-13-inch dish. Mix in the salt, sugar and white pepper. Heat, but don’t boil, 2 cups of milk and pour it over the dried corn. Allow to sit for 15 minutes.
In a large mixing bowl, place 2 tablespoons corn starch and gradually mix in 3 cups of milk. Add the eggs and mix well again. Pour this mixture over the corn soaking in the casserole. Use a spatula to loosen the corn from the bottom and mix well.
Dot the top of the dish with butter and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.