Southerners can take just about any vegetable and improve upon it. We’ve been known to deep fry squash and call it a fritter, or toss sugar and eggs into sweet potatoes and call it a pudding. Take sweet summer corn for instance. We’ll cream it, can it or casserole it — you name it, we’ve made it.
It’s not because we don’t like our vegetables, either. There is truly nothing finer than fresh summer corn picked up from a weathered old farmer’s roadside stand, resting assured that it was plucked from his field mere hours before. Whether shaved raw into a salad or eaten straight from the cob, it just doesn’t get much better than that. But after a few weeks of this kind of bountiful eating — and many more months on the horizon — folks have to start mixing things up a bit. It only takes one too many tomato salads to get us doing what we do best. (Some people may say worst, but hey, what can you do?) After a long Southern harvest, heavy cream and butter start making that surplus of veggies in the garden look pretty darn enticing.
This sweet corn custard is a pretty good example of us gilding the lily. While you typically find this type of dish on a Thanksgiving table, I enjoy it far more in the summertime, when corn is still ripe for the picking. This fairly traditional recipe is disguised under a plethora of names and countless variations; look in any old community cookbook and you’re guaranteed to find someone’s Aunt Muffy’s famous corn pudding, souffle or casserole. I chose to call mine a custard, because I feel that accurately reflects the flavor and texture I was going for: sweet yellow corn (made ever so sweeter with a hint of sugar) blanketed in a silky wrap of eggs and cream, finished with salty-smoky bacon crumbles to cut through the richness of it all.
It’s good. So good in fact, that it shouldn’t be just for Southerners to enjoy.
Individual Sweet Corn Custards
Active time: 10 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Yields: 8 individual custards
3 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs plus one yolk
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen sweet yellow corn (thawed if frozen)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
Bacon crumbles and snipped chives, for garnish
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly coat 8 individual souffle dishes or ramekins (mine are 4-3/4 ounces each) with butter or cooking spray and arrange on a sheet pan.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or with a hand mixer), add the sugar and eggs and beat until light and frothy, approximately 3 minutes. Add the flour, salt, and baking powder and beat for an additional 3 minutes, until the mixture is airy and foamy. Fold in the heavy cream and milk until combined.
Stir the corn and melted butter together and divide evenly among the ramekins. Pour the batter over the corn mixture, filling each dish almost to the top. Bake the custards for approximately 60 – 70 minutes, rotating the pan once, until the filling is set and the top is golden brown. Remove the ramekins to a wire rack and cool for at least 15 – 20 minutes before serving, to allow custard to firm up. Garnish each dish with bacon crumbles and snipped chives.
Nealey moved from Alabama to the West Coast to follow her dreams, only to realize once there how much she missed good ol’ country cooking. So she took to the kitchen and began re-creating the dishes of her past, but this time without any help from a can. What started out as a hobby turned into an obsession, so she quit her day job to pursue cooking, and eating, fulltime. Dixie Caviar is where you can follow her pursuits of all things Southern.
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