Before my grandmother required full-time care, but after she became uncomfortable staying alone at night, we, her grandchildren, switched off staying with her. This meant crochet lessons, checker games, and sitting on the porch swing. It also meant the best breakfasts I’ve ever had. Sausage or bacon, pancakes or toast, and eggs served with Tropicana orange juice. Grandma was very attached to her Tropicana orange juice. Nothing else would do.
My favorite breakfast at Grandma’s was, without question, the fried mush. I fight a smile every time I hear the word “polenta” because I imagine Grandma would scoff at the thought of calling mush by such a fancy-sounding name. She’d occasionally call it Indian fry, but even that was a stretch.
Cornmeal mush is one of those things that is simple to make but just as simple to really screw up. You get a feel for it, like you do for bread dough. Years of cooking it in the same pot, pouring it into the same loaf pan, and frying it in the same iron skillet made Grandma’s perfect every time.
I don’t have her recipe, but I watched her make it. Less often, I watched Mom make it. So, every once in a while, I make it. Not exactly the same, and maybe not as good, but I make it. To me, that’s important.
3 cups water
1 cup polenta/corn grits/corn meal
1/2 tsp salt
Bring water to a boil. Add salt. Add polenta in a thin stream while stirring. Return to a boil. Reduce to simmer. Stir often. Look for a porridge consistency. Taste. If it is not yet tender, add more water and continue to cook. This process takes 15-30 minutes. Stir in a little milk if you like. (Mush can be served at this point as a hot cereal or as a base for savory toppings.)
If you are making fried mush, pour mixture into a greased or non-stick loaf pan. (This recipe makes two mini loaf pans. You can double it, but it is not essential that the loaf pan be full.) Cover with waxed paper, making contact with mush. Refrigerate over night. In the morning slice the loaf. 1/2 inch slices work well. Taking care not to crowd slices, fry mush in an iron skillet in bacon grease. Serve hot with a sprinkle of sugar.