I was so excited to see that cornmeal had returned to my favorite farmer’s table – an excitement that would quickly turn bittersweet.
I have become a giant convert to eating – and making – my own polenta (originally posted as Polenta – the Easiest Thing I’d Never Made). My recipe has been tweaked since its early days (I’ll gladly share as I perfect it). It’s now common that dehydrated products such as our own celery, onion and mushroom powders often sneak their way into the cornmeal bath that becomes a little log of heaven. I also adore it because it is a natural pairing with our preserved tomato sauce and polenta shares my adoration with cheese.
It’s nearly perfect.
General consensus (on the blog, Facebook and in the Chef circles I have asked) is that the slower you cook it the better – I have yet to try the overnight method in a crock pot but boy I’m willing. The general thought is that the slower it cooks, the creamier the final product (though you can make some tasty morsels in about 5 minutes if you’re in a pinch).
So I was thrilled that cornmeal was back at our market. It generally arrives late winter – once the corn has dried and the farmer has time to grind it but before seeding and prepping for spring arrives. Once spring hits its stride, there’s simply no time to grind last years crops.
The 1-pound bags don’t last long. The coarsely chopped meal barely resembles the yellow powder so commonly available in bulk bins. It is this combination of texture and the size of the chunks (the larger the piece of dehydrated food, the more flavor it retains as a smaller percentage of its contents are exposed to the air which rob it of flavor) is simply the best cornmeal I’ve ever encountered (before finding it, I didn’t know there was such a category).
I had been waiting with eager anticipation for the start of this years cornmeal. I arrived at the market late (so late that they were packing up). This typically is a massive disadvantage as you miss on selection – but such is the requirements of life.
“Cornmeal’s here!” I could see both excitement and concern on the face of my friend Shannon who tends the co-op, “But this is it for the year.”
My head tried to catch up as I asked the details. The grinder had broken and time had run out for processing for the year. We all shared the disappointment (and a bit of self-depreciating humour at the fact that we were even mildly upset at the loss of something so small in the big picture of all that is going on in the world).
There was a silver lining – being last meant that everyone had their turn. I was able to bring home the remaining 6 pounds (which will go surprisingly fast). I was also offered whole corn if I could just find a way to process it and imagined returning home with bushels of dried cobs to the horror of all who love me for being just that crazy. In the interest of my own sanity (and the fact that I couldn’t think of a connection with a grinder off-hand), I passed on the offer and have decided to make the most out of ‘my’ bounty.
It’s amazing to think how scarce some of our food actually is – and how involved people, machines and nature all are in bringing it to our tables. Buying artisan-produced product like this has it’s downsides because of circumstances like this but it’s absolutely humbling to have connections directly to a source and a great reminder of the human connection involved in every meal that crosses our plate. It’s tough to see that in a world of mass production – and it’s an inconvenience that only makes me want to make my polenta even better than it is now – after all, there’s probably about enough for 12 meals and it will go fast!