No breakfast in Amish country is complete without a hearty helping of fried cornmeal mush. Most often eaten with syrup or sausage gravy, it’s a simple, honest and economical dish that has long been a staple in Amish and Mennonite households.
Made with ground corn, mush was well-known on the American frontier. Corn was first cultivated by the Native Americans, but newcomers to the New World soon learned the value of corn. Easily dried and ground, corn could be ground and used in mush (either fried or in a porridge), cornbread, corn pone and grits.
Because mush required few ingredients to make and cornmeal was plentiful, the American pioneers carried corn mush with them on wagon trains and other travels. A breakfast and/or supper dish, it was served with butter and milk if available. Since the Amish themselves were pioneers from Europe with large families to feed, they soon learned to appreciate humble corn mush as must in the farmhouse kitchen. It’s been said that that corn mush might have been the food staple that kept the pioneers alive during long winters and lean times.
How to make Amish cornmeal mush
Corn mush is made with finely-ground yellow corn meal. It’s easily available in grocery stores or, if you are ambitious, you can make your own. Just be aware that corn meal is not made from sweet corn! Sweet corn is what you eat off the cob, but it’s not suitable for corn meal. Yellow cornmeal is made with “dent” corn or field corn (look for the dent at the top of the kernel). Field corn is harder and more starchy.
You will need to make sure the corn dried thoroughly before you grind it in dry mill. Specialty stores such as Lehman’s Hardware carry mills and even corn to grind.
Once you have cornmeal, mush is pretty simple. Other than cornmeal, the only ingredients are water and salt. There are variations, but here is a recipe:
3/4 cup – cold water
3 cups boiling water
1 cup – corn meal
1 tsp – salt
First make a paste with cold water and cornmeal/salt mixture, then stir in boiling water. Continue to cook (stirring often) over a low heat for about 20 minutes, then pour into a pan and let cool until the mush is set. Slice thinly and fry in oil until crispy brown. Serve hot with breakfast syrup, sausage gravy, tomato gravy or apple butter.
If you’d rather go straight to the frying, ready-made corn mush is available in many bulk food stores and bakeries in Ohio’s Amish country or online at the Dutchman Online Store.
For a really Pennsylvania Dutch variation, try scrapple, also known as “pon haus”. Pon haus was made at butchering time and consists of pork scraps and trimmings mixed with cornmeal mush. We won’t go into the details here, but the scraps were cuts that were not usable elsewhere and therefore made into scrapple to avoid waste. Pon haus is sliced like regular mush and fried. It’s still available in some butcher shops and sometimes bulk food stores.