April 12, 2023 | Last updated Jan 23, 2023

How to make corn mush (1861)

Kitchen with a wood stove in Valley County, Nebraska, undated. RG2765-3-5


By David L. Bristow, Editor

Many Nebraska pioneers remembered living on cornmeal when there was little else to eat. Most common and easily prepared was corn mush, which is cornmeal boiled in water or milk.

“We remember in the days of our childhood we had fried mush for breakfast, boiled mush for dinner, milk and mush for supper, and for dessert it was milk de mush, mush on de milk, and on rare occasions we had cawn pone on the side,” an editor wrote humorously in an 1899 edition of the Alma Journal.

Years earlier, the December 1861 issue of Nebraska Farmer reprinted an article titled “Thirty-three Methods of [Cooking] Indian Corn.” The Civil War was underway and the article was more about wartime economy than pioneer necessity. Even so, it included many frontier recipes—including corn mush.

“‘Mush and milk’ is seldom relished,” the writer acknowledged, “because few people know how to make the mush.”

The important thing is to boil the mush for at least one hour, preferably two. “The rule is: Mix it very thin and boil it down, avoiding any burning or scorching, and salt it just right to suit the general taste. Prepare a kettle full for supper, to be eaten with milk, sugar, molasses, syrup, or sweetened cream, or sweetened milk.”

The next morning, the leftover portion can be cut into slices and “fried well, not crisped, or burned, or soaked in fat. If thoroughly soaked through in the kettle, it will only need to be heated through on the griddle. If not cooked well in the kettle, longer frying will be necessary.”

As an alternative, there’s “Dry Mush and Milk”: “Parch corn quite brown, grind it in a clean coffee mill or pound it in a mortar, and let it soak in warm milk until softened; then if too thick add more milk and eat when cold. Or meal may be browned and eaten in the same manner.”

But even thirty-three ways of cooking corn weren’t enough if you had to eat it too often. In 1899 the Omaha World-Herald proposed a statewide “Corn Bread Day,” but many old-timers were having none of it. 


Posted April 12, 2023

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