Monday, November 12, 2012

Perfect Hominy

In his spoofy song “I Wanna Go Back to Dixie,” the spiffy Tom Lehrer sings:

            Yes, for paradise the Southland is my nominee.
            Jes' give me a ham hock and a grit of hominy.

Hominy is not a food you’re likely to find on the menu at tonier establishments, or even just plain tony ones. And if you think about how it’s made, you might not even want to eat it, delicious as it is.  Hominy is kernels of corn that have been soaked in a caustic solution, such as lye—yes, lye!—to soften them, and then washed to remove their hulls. 

Hominy originated among American Indians sometime before the seventeenth century. Webster’s Second International Dictionary cites its origin as the Virginia Algonquin word rockahamen, meaning “parched corn ground small.” The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that it comes from a “much-corrupted” version of the American Indian word Appunmineash, which also means “parched corn.”

In 1629, Captain John Smith wrote of the Virginia colony: “Their servants commonly feed on Milke Homini, which is bruized Indian corn pounded, and boiled thicke, and milke for the sauce.”

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has been boiled thick more times than he can remember—but that’s another story.  This one is bad enough:

            Okra, tomatoes, and mashed sweet potatoes,
            Served with a side of salt pork,
            Turnips and greens, and ham hock and beans—
            You won’t find all that in New York.

            Fresh peaches with pits, pigs turning on spits,
            These are the foods that I flaunt.
            You say that you want some hominy grits—
            Well, hominy do you want?

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