Like bent over old men, dried cornstalks stand forlornly in fields joining our farm land. The corn has been picked and who knows if it has been pulverized for chicken feed or for the corn mash which will fatten the pigs, turning their rear thighs into tasty prosciutti? Then again, the corn might have been ground for corn flour for polenta or brustengolo, one of the few sweets which highlight Umbrian rural cuisine. When we farmed our land years ago, we spent many a winter evening at our nearest farm neighbors’ home, sitting around the fire, helping them husk the corn, as the older people told us stories of their farm childhood quando c’era la miseria (“when we were poor”). Nowadays, combines do the job. Farm families watch TV in the evenings in their kitchens – often alone. Modernization of agriculture perhaps has brought “progress”…?
Driving past the cornfields, I remember the days – over thirty years ago – when we farmed our land. Some summers, we spent hot sweaty days hoeing by hand (no weed killers in those days!) a couple of acres of corn (for feed for our pigs and fowl – and for some corn flour for home use). The work was so intense and exhausting that I remember nights of dreaming (“nightmaring”?!) that I was hoeing, hoeing, hoeing. One night, I woke Pino up as I frantically tried to push the covers back and off the bed: I had dreamed that as I hoed, I uncovered a viper hidden in the dirt clods and I was trying to fend him off with the hoe!
We picked the corn by hand – and when Keegan (now 30!) and Mattia (28 now) were small, they played with the corn husks as we threw them into the wagon behind the tractor. We miss those days. I don’t miss the endless hoeing of the rows of corn on sweltering July days, but I miss the picking of the corn on sunny fall days and the husking around the fireplace with our farm friends on winter nights. I miss using our own corn flour, too, in baking. So I’ll use the corn flour I bought to make brustengolo today. I’ll take it tonight to our farm neighbors’ for a visit – and a chat around the fire about the old days, quando c’era la miseria. There won’t be corn to husk, though. I can only hope the TV will be off.
about 1 1/2 to 2 c. of corn flour
about 1 cup of sifted cake flour
1/2 c. of extra-virgin olive oil
2 glasses warm water
1 c or so raisins
3/4 to 1 c pinenuts
4 sliced apples
1/2 grated lemon peel
1 small glass of anisette liquer (quantity to taste! – can be eliminated if desired…add more water in such case)
Mix all ingredients and pour into a baking pan – 9 x 12 –
Drizzle olive oil – or rub olive oil – on top and sprinkle sugar.
Bake about 30 mins at 350 ° F
Optional addition: I like to top the brustengolo with a simple cream I make by mixing 1 c of ricotta with 2 egg yolks, sugar and vanilla to taste. Sprinkle coconut on top if desired.
Note: All quantities are approximate (so experiment!) as the farm women who make brustengolo learned from their mothers, grandmothers – who had never seen a recipe!
As pinenuts are more costly, try this recipe above with chopped walnuts and/or slivered almonds.