Deep snow now covers our fields where corn stood tall in past summers. After the picking the corn in late summer, the dried cornstalks remaining resembled bent-over old men standing forlornly in the fields. When we farmed in the 1970’s, some of the corn was pulverized for chicken feed or for the corn mash to fatten the pigs, turning their rear thighs into tasty prosciutti. Some of our farm neighbors’ corn was always ground for corn flour for polenta or brustengolo (recipe below), one of the few sweets which highlight Umbrian rural cuisine.
We spent many a winter evening at our nearest farm neighbors’ home, sitting around the fire, helping them husk the corn, as the older people told us stories of their farm childhood quando c’era la miseria (“when we were poor”). Nowadays, combines do the job. Farm families watch TV in the evenings in their kitchens – often alone. Modernization of agriculture perhaps has brought “progress”…?
Looking out over those snow-covered cornfields now, I remember the hot sweaty days of hoeing by hand (no weed killers in those days!) a couple of acres of corn (for feed for our pigs and fowl – and for some corn flour for home use). The work was so intense and exhausting that I remember nights of dreaming (“nightmaring”?!) that I was hoeing, hoeing, hoeing.
We picked the corn by hand as well – and when our sons were small, they played with the corn husks as we threw them into the wagon behind the tractor. We miss those days. I don’t miss the endless hoeing of the rows of corn on sweltering July days, but I miss the picking of the corn on sunny fall days and the husking around the fireplace with our farm friends on winter nights. I miss using our own corn flour, too, in baking. So I’ll use the corn flour I bought to make brustengolo today. If we can get through the snow, we’ll take it tonight to our farm neighbors for a visit – and a chat around the fire about the old days, quando c’era la miseria. There won’t be corn to husk, though…..and I can only hope the TV will be off.
Ingredients (for about 6 to 8 persons)
300 g of corn flour – about 1 1/4 c
100 g of cake flour – about 1 – 1/4 c
1/2 c. of extra-virgin olive oil
2 glasses warm water or more if needed
150 g raisins – just over 1 cu[
150 g pinenuts – approx. 1 c will do
1/2 c. chopped walnuts
4 sliced apples
about 1 c of sugar
1/2 grated lemon peel
1 small glass of anisette liquer (quantity to taste! – can be eliminated if desired – add more water in such case)
Put flour in mixing bowl and add slightly salted boiling water, mixing with wooden spoon. Peel the apples and slice, covering them with lemon juice so that they do not turn black. Add the raisins, pinenuts, walnuts, and grated lemon peel to apples. Stir sugar, olive oil and liqueur into the mixture. Add the flour mixture. Adjust quantities as needed. Put in buttered baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for about 20 mins.
The rural people would not have had mascarpone in their farm kitchen but if you want to add a rich touch to this simple farm dish, add a topping you can easily make of creamed ricotta, mascarpone, and sugar.