Anne's Blog

Corn Harvest, Past

Date: November 5, 2010 - categories: , , , - 3 Comments

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.


  • Rosemary says:

    I love your reminiscences about the “old” days! So sweet. I can’t imagine though how hard the work was. What a life you have had! Thanks for sharing it with us.

  • anne says:

    Rosemary, glad you liked the note – and yes, hard work but such good years!

  • Annie, I can’t imagine a better time for tourists to come to bella Umbria than fall during the harvest. We were there two years ago during that time and the fall colors and fields were glorious. There’s little to compare to the delicious flavors of an Umbrian lentil/grain soup. I remember you told me the secret is to start with finely chopped celery, onions and carrots,(mirepoix) slowly cooked in olive oil, before the grains and liquids are added, that these three are the key all Umbrian soups. They are now my staples to most all soups I make. If only for a stroll through your neighbors’ vineyard and stubbly cornfield outside of beautiful Assisi right now! Karen

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