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Listen To Your Mother

Corn Mother

When I was growing up, the kitchen was the domain of the mothers and sisters.  The males would wander in occasionally with their ham-fisted attempts at cooking such family favorites as fried chicken and tamale pie (the only known use for Green Giant Mexicorn), but for the most part we stayed out of the way.

We learned how to show our appreciation with praise and thanks.  More typical, though, were the nonverbal compliments of a clean plate and getting up for seconds.

Imagine my surprise then, when I head off to cooking school and find that the world of professional kitchens was dominated by men and the kind of macho swagger that wears burns and scars as badges of honor.  Dropping pans because they were too hot was a definite no-no.  If your hand towel slipped, you’d “take the pain.” If you couldn’t do that, you couldn’t cut it.

Nonetheless I suspect that many of the great chefs of classical cuisine share my nostalgia for their moms’ kitchens.  As such, despite the dues-paying patriarchal tradition, they celebrate the kitchens they grew up in by calling the foundations from which all the classic sauces are made, mother sauces.

The mothers include Béchamel, based on milk, Velouté, based on white stock, Espagnole, based on brown stock, Allemande, a white sauce thickened with eggs and cream, Hollandaise, emulsified butter and egg yolks, and tomato sauce which has tomatoes.  Some also include mayonnaise, but I don’t feel comfortable keeping my mother in a jar in the refrigerator.

These week’s soup, corn chowder, started with a béchamel base.  This involves creating a blonde roux (equal parts flour and butter cooked until it’s slightly off-white) to make the added milk thicker, which is then flavored with onions, bay leaves and seasoning.

I had planned to make clam chowder, but an absence of clams at the supermarket forced me to change tack.  No problem, this base can be used for any chowder.  And since corn  chowder is my mom’s favorite, it was an obvious choice.  Add the corn, some chilies and cilantro and the soup takes on a southwestern flair, the part of the country where my mother still lives.

Don’t get me wrong, I can be as much of a macho nut job as the next guy.  (I don’t even like asking for directions from a recipe.) Still, the motivation in all kitchens is the same be they professional and domestic.  Sure, Mom’s the only one who’ll give you any TLC if you hurt yourself. (Thanks, Mom.)  But all true cooks enjoy creating delicious food and sharing it with others.

Why don’t you share yours?

Southwestern Corn Chowder
(serves 6-8)
4 T butter
4 T flour
1 quart milk
1 large onion, chopped
3 bay leaves
Salt & pepper, to taste
2 lbs. corn (it’s okay to use frozen)
1 can (4 oz.) green chilies, diced (it’s also okay to use fresh)
1 cup cilantro, chopped

  1. Combine the butter and flour in a 3 quart sauce pot and cook on low for five to seven minutes.
  2. Add milk, onion, bay leaves and seasoning and allow to thicken (about ten minutes).
  3. Add corn and chilies, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 30-45 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and garnish with cilantro.
  5. Serve warm with grilled chicken or meat, chips and salsa or a nice Caesar salad (invented by Mexican cook Caesar Cardini).

Image Credit: Dorothy Lange’s iconic photograph of a depression era mother disrespected with clip art ears of corn and a sawed-off version of MS Paint.

Okay, so I’m not your mother, but I haven’t heard from you in a while.  Is that a nice way to treat someone?  Would it kill you to leave a comment?  Thanks for reading.  I’ll also be reading and responding.

Leave a Comment to “Listen To Your Mother”

  1. Michael Larsen says:

    This is definitely going into the rotation. I love chowders, but I don’t like the big potato chunks so often found in them. This chowder does not make that mistake.

    • pcandres says:

      Lucky for you there were no clams at the local market. Otherwise this would have been a potato chunk-a-palooza. Glad it turned out the way it did. Let me know how your chowda turns out.
      Phil

  2. Chris says:

    This will be a keeper, as myself and my children love chowders; or as my Boston-influenced wife and mother to my children loves to say “chowda”.

    BTW-keep the photoshop work for the experts, as Ms. Lange’s depiction appears to have Neil Young sideburns.

    • pcandres says:

      Thanks for the comment Chris and for the advice about photoshop. I am looking at my images on a little laptop screen and the sideburns seem a little less pronounced than they probably do on your monitor. Neil Young was definitely not the look I was going for though. That’s what you get for messing around with MS Paint. I wish I had photoshop.

      I hope you like the soup, however your family pronounces it.

  3. Mom says:

    I just got home from the store, now I’ll have to turn around and go back. This sounds like a good one, Phil. I was going to try the borscht next, but it will have to wait. By the way, there’s little chance you could get me in a jar let alone a refrigerator.
    The first thing I do in the morning (after the crossword puzzle) is check your blog.
    Your ever loving Mom.

    • pcandres says:

      With all the soups you’re making, you’ll have to start jarring some of them soon. I know I am. And not to worry about being put into jars in the fridge, I’ve got lots more soups to get to before I can even fit that on the schedule.
      Your ever loving Son

  4. Kim McDonnell says:

    Can I say that I ABSOLUTELY love corn chowder. It’s my favorite, but I’ve never made it myself. Thanks to you, I’ll be making this for my family this week. We are dairy-free, so I’m going to try it with hemp milk – I’ll let you know how it goes. Keep up the great blog – I love it.

    • pcandres says:

      Thanks Kim. I would love to hear how the hemp milk adaptation goes. My sister has translated a lot of the meat recipes into vegetarian. I think the idea of going non-dairy is fabulous. There are so many different ways to prepare these foods and so many diets they can be fit into. Keep reading and I’ll keep writing.
      Phil

  5. Mom says:

    Well it was a smashing success! Dad said it was addictive. I did however use 2 Yukon potatoes, finely diced, because, unlike Michael, I did like potatoes in my chowder. I think next time I’ll use diced roasted red peppers instead of of the green chilis. it would be more colorful and probably not affect the flavor to any great extent. Keep it up, Phil. We’re really enjoying all the new eating experiences.

    • pcandres says:

      Thanks for all the nice words. Be careful about tinkering with all the recipes. You don’t want to mess with perfection. Just kidding. These recipes are just starting points. Improvise away. Just let me know how it works out.
      Oh, and keep reading!
      Phil

  6. Jame says:

    Hi Phil. I’m going to try this one today. I’ve been sick off and on for the past few weeks and have fallen behind on my reading (of your blog.) So I sat down today to catch up. First I read the Ratatouille. (Oh, I’m going to make that today!) Then I read the Corn Chowder… (Oh, no, I’m going to make THAT today.) Then I read the Freezer (Broccoli and Sausage)… (That’s the one!) Now I’m back to the corn, for today, but the broccoli and sausage will be this week, too. Perhaps the ratatouille, also! (I may be getting a little ahead of myself here…)

    • pcandres says:

      Wow, that’s a lot of soup making and a lot of reading. My head’s spinning just trying to follow all the different recipes and blogs you’re talking about. And I wrote them. I’m glad you like the theory. Let me know how the practice goes.

  7. Jame says:

    Loved the aside about the mexicorn. Ah, Tamale Pie! Still a staple in our house…
    Phil, I’m so enjoying all the memories you are envoking in these blog entries. Love, Jame

    • pcandres says:

      We actually haven’t served Tamale Pie all that often. What I remember most was putting the olives on all of my fingers and drawing things with catsup on the tamale pie canvass. I’ll have to reintroduce it to the girls. Margaret loves southwestern.

  8. Titania says:

    O.K., Phil, you and Michael were right! Corn chowder doesn’t need potato chunks, even itsy-bitsy ones. So DON’T listen to your mother. This was so much better when following your directions. Dad even took a 2nd helping when he thought I wasn’t looking

    • pcandres says:

      Thanks for being open-minded. I’ll try it with potato chunks next time. Maybe I’ll like that better.

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