My most recent immigrant ancestors emigrated to the United States from western Europe in the 1870s and ’80s, all on my dad’s side. His father was the son of an English immigrant father and a mother whose parents were Swedish immigrants. My dad’s mother was the daughter of parents born in the United States to German immigrants (so, one of my dad’s four grandparents was an immigrant, the rest were children of immigrants). To my knowledge, no food and/or drink customs descended from my dad’s grandparents to his parents to him. I did hear that his father liked to eat anchovies raw out of the can, which might have been something his Swedish-American mother did, but otherwise, food and drink customs from the Old Country have not descended to me.
So, when I was a kid, my mom would make something for us called “corn fritters,” a delicious little pancake treat lathered with syrup (a basic recipe). The ingredients, as I recall them, were corn kernels, flour, eggs, sugar, and cooking oil—the Crisco mom kept under the stove in this case. Some recipes include heavy cream and baking powder but I don’t recall how she made them … she just fried them up in the cast-iron skillet on the pan and we’d gorge them with syrup. I always assumed this was some Southern-dish she inherited from her family, people whose ancestors were deeply Southern and had been in America since before the American Revolution.
Though, like my dad’s side of the family, there were no strong food customs on my mother’s side that I could ever discern. One of my mother’s aunts, whom we called “Aint Jude,” and her husband, Uncle Knott, would put on a delicious dinner spread at their East Texas house with fresh vegetables from their garden, homemade pie, ham from Piggly Wiggly, and store-bought bread. But, I don’t think meal connected to any particular ancestral inheritance. Great-aunt Jude’s sister, my grandmother, was not renowned for her food, though I enjoyed her spaghetti with ketchup sauce and three-layer jello+cottage cheese dish.
So, the one meal I assumed was a Southern tradition in my mom’s family—the beloved corn fritter—has retained a special place in my memory. A few years ago, my mom asked me what my favorite childhood food dish that she had made was. I sorted through her brisket, and shish kabob, but the item I always came back to was the corn fritter, delicious, syrupy corn fritters. (Coincidentally, she asked the same question of my sister at a different time, who gave the same answer). My mother nodded and then said, calmly as befit her demeanor (and here I paraphrase), that corn fritters were her mother-in-law’s recipe!
Now, my mother and her mother-in-law “did not get along.” In fact, I do believe that my mother and my paternal grandmother did not like each other one bit. I could write another post about the evidence of that, but to put it bluntly, there was no love between them. But, apparently, the favorite childhood dish of both me and my sibling (independently announced), the most memorable comestible my mother made in her kitchen on Aberdeen Avenue in Dallas, Texas, in those bell-bottomed, groovy days of the 1970s—the pan-fried corn-filled Crisco-laden syrup-slathered corn fritter—was a recipe she inherited from her mother-in-law, granddaughter of German immigrants.
I do not know where my grandmother’s recipe came from. She grew up in Milwaukee in a German-American community, but the dish isn’t specifically German. It has versions in Pennsylvania Dutch, Amish, and Native American traditions as well.
I think this revelation to our mother made by both me and my sister at different times might have made her a little sad. But, while I can’t honestly recall her as a great cook, she did provide meals for our family, good food home-cooked, and the fact that the item we remembered most was from her mother-in-law can’t detract from the fact that she made it for her children, because we enjoyed corn fritters more than anything.
— Fred Dews