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Some Food Variants
Variants of food preparation sometimes typify nationalities better even than variants of language or clothing. Take the lowly corn meal, for instance. We find that Italian polenti, Spanish tamale, Philadelphia scrapple and Southern Darkey crackling corn bread are but variants of the preparation of corn meal in delectable foods. It is a long step from plain corn meal mush to scrapple, which we consider the highest and best form of preparing this sort of dish, but all the intermediate steps come from a desire to please the taste with a change from. simple corn meal. Crackling corn bread is the first step, and here we find that the darkies of the South found good use for the remnants of the pork after lard was tried out at hog-killing time, by mixing the cracklings with their corn meal and making a pone which they cooked before an open fire on a hoe blade, the first of this being called "cracklin' hoe cake."
Good scrapple is one of the finest breakfast dishes that we know during the winter, and when prepared after the recipe given here it precedes all other forms of serving corn meal. To mix it properly one must know the proper values of herbs and condiments, and this recipe is the result of much discriminating study. Modesty prevents us giving it more than the name of "scrapple." It is prepared in the following manner, differing from that made in Philadelphia:
Take a young pig's head and boil it until the flesh drops from the bones, in water to which has been added two good-sized onions, quartered, five bruised cloves of garlic, one bay leaf, sweet marjoram, thyme, rosemary, a little sage, salt, and pepper. Separate the meat from the bones and chop fine. Strain off the liquor and boil with corn meal, adding the chopped meat. Put in the corn meal gradually, until it makes a stiff mush, then cook for half an hour with the meat. Put in shallow pans and let cool. To serve slice about half an inch thick and fry in olive oil or butter to a light brown.
As originally prepared the tamale was made for conveyance, hence the wrappings of corn husk. This is a Spanish dish, having been brought to this country by the early Spanish explorers, and adopted by the Indian tribes with whom they came in contact. In the genuine tamale the interior is the sauce and meat that goes with the corn meal which is alternately laid with the husks, and when made the ends are tied with fine husk. For meat, chicken, pork, and veal are considered the best. There is also a sweet tamale, made with raisins or preserves.
The following recipe for tamales was given us by Luna:
Boil one chicken until the meat comes from the bones. Chop the neat fine and moisten it with the liquor in which it was boiled. Boil six large chili peppers in a little water until cooked so they can be strained through a fine strainer, and add to this the chopped chicken, with salt to taste and a little chopped parsley. Take corn meal and work into it a lump of butter the size of an egg, adding boiling water and working constantly until it makes a paste the consistency of biscuit dough. Have ready a pile of the soft inner husks of green corn and on each husk spread a lump of dough, the size of a walnut, into a flat cake covering the husk. In the center of the dough put a teaspoonful of the chopped meat with minced olive. On a large husk put several tablespoonfuls of chopped meat with olives. Roll this together and lay on them other husks until the tamale is of the size desired. Tie the ends together with strips of fine husk and put in boiling water for twenty minutes. Either veal or pork may be used instead of chicken.
Polenti, properly prepared, is a dish that requires much labor, and scarcely repays for the time and exertion spent in its making. It differs from scrapple in that the ingredients are mixed in a sauce and poured over the mush instead of being mixed in the meal. In the New Buon Gusto restaurant, in Broadway, they cook polenti to perfection, and when it is served with cippino it leaves nothing to be desired. This is the recipe:
For the gravy: Make a little broth with veal bone, a small piece of beef, a pig's foot, neck, feet and gizzard of chicken. In a separate kettle cook in hot oil one sliced onion, one clove of garlic, a little parsley, one bell pepper, one tomato, a small piece of celery, and a carrot. Cook until soft and then add this to the broth with a few dried mushrooms. Cook slowly for thirty minutes and then strain.
For the mush: Boil corn meal until it is thoroughly done and then cool it until it can be cut in slices for frying. Mix butter and olive oil and heat in a frying pan and into this put the slices of corn meal, frying to a light brown. Place the fried corn meal in a platter in layers, sprinkling each with grated Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper. Take parsley and one clove of garlic chopped fine and a can of French mushrooms cut in quarters, and fry in butter, then add enough gravy to pour over the fried corn meal. Place this in an oven for a few minutes then serve.