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Corn fritters - one of those everyday things

"the caramelisation that occurs when sweetcorn comes into contact with a hot pan is a magic not easily sacrificed." Felicity Cloake

"I grew up on corn fritters.

They were most often deep-fried and devised by my mother out of the ingredients always found in her kitchen: canned creamed corn, flour, eggs, and a spike of baking soda. I must admit I loved them dearly though they were greasy as the dickens and probably as lethal to one's digestive system as a depth charge." Bert Greene

That just about sums up the whole idea of corn fritters does it not? A favourite food but not good for you. For the Americans a favourite food anyway, and also - quite surprisingly - for the Indonesians too. More of that to come.

Personally I had to train myself to like corn at all. When I did that trip to America all those years ago, every time we were invited into somebody's home - quite often - we would be served corn on the cob. Now we didn't do corn in England back then. And the taste was a bit strange and a tiny bit sweet. Not to mention all the bits that got stuck in my teeth and the butter that dribbled down my chin - and probably on to my clothes as well. But now I love corn on the cob and actually cannot understand why I don't cook it more often. After all what could be simpler? Just don't forget to put a touch of sugar into the cooking water.

But today I'm talking about corn fritters as inspired by the picture at the top of the page from the current Coles Magazine. It was actually the only recipe that tempted me in this edition. It's a recipe from Sarah Hobbs called Wholemeal corn fritters with zucchini and halloumi and demonstrates how corn fritters are another of those things, like the pan de tomate, that have evolved and become tarted up over the years. That Coles recipe not only has the halloumi in it - that Middle-Eastern touch - but it also has that trendy ingredient miso - which is Japanese. Fusion food. Simple plain food is, after all, just crying out for being messed with is it not?

So where do corn fritters begin? They found corn pollen fossils 80,000 years old in America, and the Native Americans were certainly cooking with corn way, way back - 8 or 9,000 years I seem to remember. But they didn't make fritters, because they (a) did not have ready supplies of oil (why not?) or (b) implements to fry them in. But surely they could cook them over a fire? Anyway that's the story - they made all kinds of breads and stews but not fritters. And here's another thing that I just did not know:

"You will never find corn growing in the wild because corn is dependent on human distribution and not self-sowing." Dale Carson/Indian Country Today

Which means that the Native Americans cannot have been that nomadic as they would have to stay put in one place to grow the corn. And you would have to wonder how early corn spread around. It must have grown in the wild first. Too many questions for me which I really ought to look into.

However, we are today talking about corn fritters. When the Europeans came to the Americas, they brought their own cooking techniques with them, and transferred these to the native American ingredients - the dominant one of which was corn. The south of America, where they love to fry stuff - is the area most famous for corn fritters but Bert Greene's recipe is from the Amish of Pennsylvania - and a lady called Dorothy Shanks who once interviewed him on a local radio program:

"Take my word for it: in the end length has nothing to do with magnificence. These are simply the best corn fritters you will ever eat." Bert Greene

Of course the recipe is not online so here it is - it's not very long:

4 large ears corn; 2 eggs, separated; 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour; 1 tablespoon sugar; salt and freshly ground black pepper; unsalted butter.

Cut the kernels from 2 of the ears and put in a bowl. With the back of the knife, scrape the cobs to extract the juice. For the other 2 ears, cut the kernels off half deep and then scrape off the juice. Mix - it will look like scrambled eggs. Beat egg yolks in a large bowl until light. Beat in flour, sugar and salt and pepper. Stir in corn. Beat egg whites until stiff and then fold in. Heat heavy pan or griddle over medium heat and grease with butter. Drop small spoonfuls of batter on to pan. Cook for about 30 seconds each side until golden."

The thing that is different to most recipes here is the separating of the eggs and the folding in of the beaten whites. But Nigel Slater does the same and he adds a couple more notes:

"Use fresh, raw sweetcorn. Tinned corn is too soft, and the necessary crunch will be lost. Don't overmix the batter, which would result in heavy cakes. For a lighter but more fragile fritter, add another beaten egg white. Cook in butter, not oil. Sweetcorn loves butter more than any other cooking medium." Nigel Slater

I have to say that Bert Greene adds an awful lot of sugar it seems to me - a little bit is good yes as it brings out the sweetness, particularly if your corn is not fresh, but a whole tablespoon seems a lot. But then again maybe not - it was four ears of corn after all. By the way tinned corn might be no good, but thawed frozen corn would be.

They both go for simple though - as does an American lady with a website called Smitten Kitchen:

"To me, the best fritters are mostly vegetable with just the smallest amount of egg and flour needed to bind them together. You should taste vegetable, not cake-y pancake-ness. They should be simple; ideally one-bowl. This is quick food you throw together. You shouldn’t have to think too hard, or even follow a recipe much after the first or second time." Smitten Kitchen

Felicity Cloake also goes for a bit of pulpiness and lightness but she achieves this by processing some of the kernels and also by using buttermilk. And yes she does have a bit of spring onion and chilli in there, but there's not much messing around.

Interesting the Indonesians don't fiddle much either. I had almost forgotten them. Apparently the Portuguese in particular took the corn to Indonesia (and Burma) in the 16th century - where the conditions suited it and it became a very popular crop. So much so that the Indonesian version of a corn fritter is now a very popular street food.

It's called bakwan jagung and looks pretty nice - perhaps more crispy and less creamy. Here are two versions - one which was illustrated on the Wikipedia site and the other from a New York Indonesian restaurant called Wayan whose recipe is online.

We Australians have taken sweetcorn to our hearts - has 152 listings under corn fritters although to be fair I did not go all the way through the list and some may not quite be the right thing. There is everything there from plain to fancy, from American and Mexican to Thai. So if you are looking for ideas it's as good a place to start as any. But Bill Granger it seems is the king here and a website called The Sweetcorn Kitchen has his recipe for Bill Granger's sweetcorn fritters with roast tomatoes, bacon and avocado salsa. Of course there is avocado salsa. I'm pretty sure that every café serving breakfast would have a similar recipe. More savoury than sweet. I suspect the Americans douse theirs in maple syrup and serve with bananas or something similar. Maybe apples.

But what about our favourite Ottolenghi? Yes of course he does corn fritters and with style. Fritter roulette is named as such because it's a bit pot luck whether you get a big hit of chill or not; Corn, sesame and coconut fritters would seem to be a bit of a Middle-Eastern/Asian mix and Prawn and corn fritters would be worthy of lunch.

I'll say it once again. Today this is very ordinary food. I am sure you can buy do it yourself packs, and frozen versions so that you don't even have to spend quarter of an hour or so putting it all together. And you don't need to use cobs - just buy frozen kernels. As to what you put in them - well anything goes really:

"if it goes with corn and it’s not too wet (deseed tomatoes, squeeze out grated courgette, for example), you can fold it in here," Felicity Cloake

Back in my youth though they would have been so exotic. We didn't even know that corn existed. Well I didn't. How wonderful the world of food is.

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