Background: I grew up in rural Pennsylvania, about 1-1/2 hours north east of Philadelphia. My Grandfather, Wilmer KRIEBEL (German descent) was born and raised in Graterford, Pennsylvania. After marrying my Grandmother, they settled and made their home in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania. Graterford was also home for myself and my parents. Mennonites, of German descent, were our neighbors and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, known for its Amish population wasn't far from the area where we lived. When family and friends gathered, 'Pennsylvania German' always seemed to be a common thread.
Somewhere along the way, I grew to believe that mush was an indigenous dish of the Pennsylvania Germans; that it was unique to my Grandfather's heritage and to our family. And, I didn't learn otherwise until well into adulthood. Recently I shared the story of my genealogy addiction; truth be told, I have another addiction, the Food Network, it was through watching their programming that I saw different recipes using cornmeal (the main ingredient of mush) and how different ethnic cultures used that grain by-product in their cuisines. The Italians often eat Polenta (cornmeal) as a side dish; in soft form (siilar to mashed potatoes) and served most often with tomato gravy. And, to my surprise, they also eat it fried. The polenta is cooked then poured out onto a cutting board and left to set up, it is then sliced and either grilled or fried. This discovery led me to 'consult' Google to see how other ethnic groups used cornmeal in their cuisine.
Cornmeal is used in kitchens all over the world; in theory, I knew this, but I am discovering that many cultures / ethnic groups have food products / recipes similar to the fried mush that I grew up eating. This, I didn't know. What follows is just a small sampling of what I learned during my research . . .
- Mush (Coosh) - named for its Canadian inventor; Malcolm "Malcolmush" King. Thick cornmeal pudding or porridge traditionally boiled in clam juice, water or milk. It is often allowed to set to become semi-solid then sliced and pan fried. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mush_(cornmeal)
- Poudine Mais (Mauritus Island, Indian Ocean) - thick cornmeal / polenta pudding poured into a shallow buttered serving dish that has been lined with coconut and raisins. Once set, it is sliced and enjoyed. Source / recipe: http://inspiredtobake.wordpress.com/2010/02/17/poudine-mais-simple-is-beautiful/
- Sadza (Zimbabwe) - thickened porridge made with white cornmeal; usually served in a communal bowl or on separate plates, rolled into a ball, dipped into meat, gravy, sour milk or stewed vegetables. A thinner version is made with peanut butter or margarine and eaten in the morning. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sadza
- Mamaliga (Romania / Moldova) - thick porridge made with cornmeal and may also include: milk, butter, cheese, eggs, sausage, bacon, mushrooms, ham, or fish. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C4%83m%C4%83lig%C4%83
And, in the Americas; specifically the United States . . .
It has been around in one form or another since corn has been growing in the Americas. During the Civil War, both the Confederate and Union armies ate cornmeal mush from time to time when supplies were scarce. It was well known in the east as being a food primarily eaten by lower income households. And, on the frontier, one ate what was available or one starved. Source: http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-cornmeal-mush.htm
Below, written in my Grandmother's own hand, is the recipe for Mush. It was my Grandmother's 'go to' recipe for many Sunday evening suppers, but we also enjoyed it on many an occassion for breakfast. We all had different ways of enjoying the fried slices; I would eat mine with Grandma's Molasses, others ate it topped with jam or jelly, dusted with powdered sugar or topped with butter and syrup.
Catherine 'Kate' (STARR) KRIEBEL's Mush Recipe
Cornmeal mush, once eaten as a source of sustenance here in the United States, and still a mainstay in cuisines all over the world, can now be found in its various forms in recipes of famed chefs and in fine restaurants. How cool! Although, I never needed to be told that it was good eats. I already knew; I've been eating it since I was knee-high to a grasshopper - what made it the best was that it was lovingly prepared by my Grandmother. And, it didn't hurt that I thought it was unique to my family. LOL!
A (near) future goal - to have fun trying the many ethnic variations I've discovered in the course of my Google research to learn more about cornmeal mush. Although, I have no doubt that they will be delicious in their own rite, they will NEVER compare with my Grandmom's fried mush.
PS: A happy aside - my oldest son phoned while I was putting this blog post together and requested this recipe. I happily shared it with the next generation; I look forward to more memories being made. My Grandmother's food continues to be made with love and enjoyed.