HominyBy Sharon Brown (Sharran)
September 8, 2009
It was always a battle whenever I heard the words: "Eat it, it's good for you." They created instant rebellion. If it were "good" for me, I knew the taste would be intolerable. I couldn't wait till I grew up, because I would never be forced to eat anything I disliked. Take beets for example. In all my years I have only ever taken one bite of beets, pickled, I think they were. I spit it right back out. There is no one big enough or smart enough to force me to take another bite of beets, or cooked carrots, even if they are good for me. Hominy was a different story. Nobody told me to eat it, but since I got to help make it, I decided to give it a try. With the first bite, I fell instantly in love with hominy.
When I was a child, at the end of every summer a portion of specified field corn was left to dry on the stalk. Some of the dried corn was used as food for animals, some was taken for grinding into meal, and some was used to make hominy. That was the process I really liked. In those days people who lived near each other shared garden space, so only white corn might be grown in Aunt Bett's garden and yellow corn in my Granny Ninna's garden. Then they had both kinds to share since they spent a lot of time working in each other's gardens. Sometimes hominy was made at Aunt Bett's for both families, and sometimes it was made at Granny Ninna's house. It didn't matter, because they both worked together in whatever they did. No matter where it was made, I got to be in on the making.
Hominy is dried field corn kernels which have been treated with an alkali. Traditionally we soaked the dried corn in lye water derived from wood ash, until the hulls were removed. Other areas I am sure used another kind of alkali. The process is to remove the germ and the hard outer hull from the kernels, which makes them easier to digest and much more tasty.
Many Native American cultures made hominy. The Cherokee, my long ago ancestors, made hominy grits by soaking corn in lye water and beating it with a corn beater. The grits were used to make a traditional hominy soup. They taught the process to the American colonists, who were not familiar with dried corn and they learned by doing exactly what the Native Americans did, they soaked the dried corn in a lye water solution.
The colonists usually kept a type of mill and an ash hopper near their kitchens. Their mill was a giant mortar and pestle made from a tree stump and a block of wood. It was hung from a tree branch. Used as such, the branch became a sort of spring. The mill was used to crack hard kernels of dried corn into coarse meal. The hopper was a V-shaped wooden funnel and wood ashes (usually oak ashes) were put into the funnel and then water was run through it to make lye. The lye was then used to soften the corn hulls and create hominy.
By the time I came along, the corn was soaked in this way: To get lye, my family used a section of a hollow tree, set it on a base that slanted, and filled the hollow part of the tree with green oak ashes from the fireplace. Well water was then poured through the ashes . When the water trickled through at the bottom, it was caught in a bucket and poured back through the ashes until the lye water was as strong as they wanted it. This is the same process of making lye water as was used in soap making.
The next part of the process was to soak the dried corn in the lye water until the skin and the little nib at the point came off. This usually took a day or two, and during that time, the hominy was stirred occasionally. That was my job. There was a very long strong stick used just for the stirring, it had a handle but the lower part of the stick had been carved so that it was like a flat paddle. It was very nearly as long as I was tall, but no matter, because I was the stirrer of the corn.
When the skin came off, (the corn would be swollen enough to break those skins) the corn was washed thoroughly many times to remove all the lye. The last thing we did was cook the corn until it was tender, cover it with a generous amount of bacon grease, salt to taste, and all was right with the world; as long as you also had cornbread nearby. (I know, bacon grease, I guess perhaps we should limit the generous amount, don't you?)
Some folks today use soda to soak the corn, but I am not really familiar with that method, although I am sure it is very much the same process as with lye water. But one thing is sure, they don't get to go through the process of making lye from ashes. I did talk with one of my older uncles and he said his wife had used soda water, and for about a gallon and a half of shelled corn, two boxes of soda should be mixed with enough water to cover the corn. I asked him how much water that would be, but he couldn't tell me. I guess I will have to figure it out by myself.
Research tells me that in the south, grits refers to the more finely ground corn, and in most areas hominy refers to the whole kernels which were skinned but not ground. In some places, particularly in the south, whole kernels are still called big hominy and the ground ones are known as little hominy. In the American Southeast, grits are eaten with everything, but I am more familiar with its use as a breakfast dish. It is definitely a favorite of most southern dishes.
In the southwest, big hominy is called "posole", and it is used to make hearty stews with peppers and pork. Also in the southwest, they grind small hominy until it is very fine and use it for tamale and tortilla dough.
The canned hominy you find on the shelf in your grocery has less food value when compared to the homemade hominy of years ago. In reality, the traditional preparation, made with wood ash water greatly increases the protein available from sun dried field corn and makes its vitamin B-3 (niacin) more biologically available. We can make hominy out of dried yellow or white corn, the taste has very little difference and the process and nutritional value is all the same. If you like hominy and want the highest nutritional value possible, then get some dried field corn, shell it, mix a couple boxes of baking soda in a half gallon of water and pour over the shelled dry corn. If that does not cover the corn, just add more water. Stir periodically, and after the skins and nibs have all floated to the surface, skim the debris all off the top of the water, and you will have nutritional hominy. You could also use lye water and do it in much the same way.
I like hominy and hominy grits in any form, but here are a couple of recipes that might encourage you to add hominy to your menu. They would be even better if you make your own hominy, but just in case, I wrote them in can measurements:
2 cans of drained hominy
2/3 (8ozs.) container of sour cream or plain yogurt
1 1/3 cup of shredded cheddar cheese
2/3 (4ozs.) can of chopped green chili peppers
2/3 pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
Preheat oven to 350
In 2 quart casserole dish mix hominy, sour cream, cheese, chilies and cayenne pepper.
Bake for 25 minutes in the preheated oven.
1 Cup of fresh green beans cut in 2" pieces
1/2 can kidney beans rinsed and drained
1/2 can of yellow hominy drained
1/2 cup black beans rinsed and drained
1/2 cup of thinly sliced celery
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/2 medium sweet red pepper, julienned
1/4 cup of white wine vinegar or cider vinegar
1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro or parsley
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 garlic clove minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse pepper
Place green beans in saucepan and cover with small amount of butter, bring to boil. Cook uncovered for 8 or 10 minutes till crisp/tender, then drain and rinse in cold water.
In serving bowl, combine green beans with all other beans, plus hominy, celery, onion and red pepper.
In jar with tight lid combine remaining ingredients and shake well.
Pour over veggies and stir gently to coat. Cover and refigerate at least one hour before eating.
There are many more equally tasty Hominy Recipes at this site:
Photo Credits: Thank you to Farmerdill for the thumbnail photo found in Plant Files. The cornbread is my own photo, and the fresh corn as well as dried corn are from Public Domain photos. And thanks Terry, for unknowingly giving me the idea.
Much of my own knowledge was verified through Wikipedia and through this website: http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-hominy.htm, particularly the use of hominy in the southwest as well as its nutritional value.