Nineteenth-century New England women managed their kitchens frugally, which meant that they had to be clever in the use of leftovers. Lacking refrigeration, they had to recycle cooked foods promptly. Sometimes that meant cooking more than they knew they needed in order to have enough ingredients for tomorrow’s dinner.
Leftover baked beans became bean soup, leftover rice went into rice bread, muffins or pancakes. Boiled potatoes reappeared as fried potatoes, mashed potatoes as savory potato cakes or potato pudding. Stale bread became breadcrumbs to coat the leftover fish that was fried in cakes. Breadcrumbs also figured in fritters, desserts and an especially tender pancake that is my personal favorite.
I was familiar with using leftover corn in pie and fritters, but I was surprised to find a recipe using leftover hominy because I associated this cereal with Southern cooking. However hominy is just another name for samp, a preparation of corn that English colonists ate from the earliest years of New England settlements.
Native Americans taught the colonists to soak dried kernels of field corn in lye made from hardwood ashes to soften and remove the tough outer hulls. This process also killed the germ to keep the corn from sprouting and made the niacin in corn available for digestion. Only corn so treated with an alkali can be ground into cornmeal that is usable for a dough.
The chemist Hudson Maxim (1853-1927) recalled that when he was growing up on a hardscrabble farm in Piscataquis County, hominy and corn meal were staples because wheat flour was more expensive.
“We didn’t use much flour. Corn meal served instead…,” he recalled. “Mother made hulled corn, and after she’d boiled it we ate it with milk. We filled up on it, and in a little while we’d be hungry again and would eat some more. It tasted amazingly good.”
Apparently, a steady diet of corn products did him no harm. Maxim became a prolific inventor who developed various explosives that were used in World War I. He sold his patents and factory to du Pont, retiring as a millionaire.
I found a recipe for hominy muffins in a calendar for 1882, titled “The Story of the Shakers and Some of Their Cooking Recipes,” produced and distributed by a pharmaceutical company that bought medicinal herbs from the Shakers.
Because few of us have leftover hominy in the refrigerator, I adapted the recipe to use canned hominy, which you can find on the supermarket shelf with Mexican foods. To make 1 cup of sour milk, put one tablespoon of white vinegar in a cup measure and fill with milk to the 1-cup line.