Every family has one side dish that it’s just not Thanksgiving without. In my family, it’s corn pudding. My brother, a lifelong bachelor, always makes it as his contribution to the many Friendsgivings he’s participated in thousands of miles away from the rest of us.
It wasn’t always that way. Back when my grandparents were alive, Thanksgiving was the height of Bir family gatherings. The day before through the Sunday after the holiday, their house brimmed with aunts, uncles, cousins, food, and constant activity.
My uncles drank beer and complained about politicians. My mom and aunts helped Grandma Bir wash dishes as my cousins and I ran around playing old board games, arguing, and dragging out piles of exotic-to-us old toys. It was comfortable chaos. We all loved it.
The big meal was sizable enough that for plenty of years I was at the kids’ table, eagerly awaiting Grandma Bir’s corn pudding to make its way to me. Leftovers never lasted more than 24 hours, and corn pudding was the first thing to disappear.
Corn Pudding Isn’t a Dessert, But It Comes Close
My mom has it out for this corn pudding. She married into it and has gamely complied with its presence, making it upon request every post-Dayton Thanksgiving. But even its very name is distasteful to her. She calls it “corn scallop” (no one else does). Besides, it’s not scalloped corn. It’s custardy and baked, a pudding if I ever saw one.
Sweet and eggy, corn pudding is exactly the sort of side dish that joined the holiday meal canon in millions of American households in the 20th century. It’s an affair of opening canned goods and throwing them together. Perhaps it has its roots in the recipes of colonial times, but its present incarnation is a celebration of convenience.
My grandparents on my dad’s side had six kids, and as far as cooking goes, I think by the time they all flew the coop Grandma Bir was completely over it. Most of our visits involved many takeout boxes of Joe’s Pizza.
But Grandma Bir flexed her kitchen muscle on Thanksgiving. Her sausage stuffing cannot be duplicated. I have no idea where she came across this corn pudding recipe–she was the matron of a peripatetic brood, so perhaps it was when they lived on different Air Force bases in the South. Corn pudding is a Southern dish that goes well with ham or barbecue, not just turkey.
How To Serve Corn Pudding
Corn pudding is best, I think, when it’s warm rather than hot. Its texture and flavors are more cohesive after a rest. If you are serving it at a big holiday meal, that shouldn’t be a problem, since by the time all of the food hits your plate, very little of it is piping hot.
I’ve made Grandma Bir’s recipe plenty of times, but never with a discerning eye. To codify corn pudding for the recipe below, I baked it nearly as written (I reduced the sugar a tad, as the creamed corn is plenty sweet on its own). When I sampled a bite, the taste was familiar, yet somehow off. I’d never had corn pudding on its own before; it benefits from the nearness on your plate to dressing, cranberry sauce, sweet potato casserole, and the runoff of gravy from the pile of neighboring turkey.
Something was missing, and then I figured it out. It was my family. Before me I had an entire casserole of corn pudding to all myself, and its splendors were meaningless without a dozen other relatives coveting their own helpings.
This doesn’t have to be the case for you. Bake corn pudding and share it with people you love. What I will do is email this recipe to my cousins, because of course they all want it.
Famous Sides for Gatherings
- Perfect Mashed Potatoes
- Candied Yams
- Cranberry Sauce
- How to Make Gravy
- Mom’s Stovetop Stuffing
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Grease a 2 1/2-quart, 11×7, or 9×9-inch baking dish.
Make the pudding:
Gently warm the milk and butter in a small saucepan or microwave-safe glass measuring cup until the butter is melted. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the cornstarch and beat until combined. Then stir in both cans of corn, plus the sugar, salt, and pepper, plus the milk-butter mixture. Scrape into the prepared dish and bake until the center is set (the center won’t jiggle when you nudge the dish) and the edges are browned, 40 to 60 minutes. A larger baking dish will bake faster than a smaller dish, such as a 9×9.
Cool at least 10 minutes before serving. This is best warm, not hot.
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Corn Pudding With Jiffy Mix
The Jiffy cornbread mix version of this recipe is similar in many ways; it has the same basic flavors as the cornbread-less one (corn, sugar, and corn). It also makes more, even though both are baked in 8×8-inch dishes. It winds up like a cross between Indian pudding and creamed corn.
To make it, heat the oven to 350°F. Put a stick of butter in an 8×8-inch pan and pop it in the oven so the butter will melt as the oven heats. Then beat an egg in a large bowl and mix in one drained can of whole-kernel corn plus one can of creamed corn. Fold in one cup of sour cream, then one box of Jiffy cornbread mix. Dump this all in the warm pan over the melted butter; do not stir.
Bake until the center is set and the edges are lightly browned, about an hour. Let cool for at least 10 minutes so the butter can circulate through the hot casserole. The casserole is small, but it’s rich and will serve eight to 12 at a large meal. You can make this ahead of time; it reheats well.