Without Grandma's "angel corn," is it even Thanksgiving?

A magnificent excuse for a vegetable

Published November 21, 2018 8:32PM (EST)

 (Rocky Luten / Food52)
(Rocky Luten / Food52)

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Reading the ingredients list of my grandmother's corn pudding recipe (frozen corn, Ritz crackers, a whole stick of butter, enough cream to drown a cat), you may ask yourself: Is this one of those oldfangled, topped-with-something-boxed, unapologetically rich Thanksgiving dishes? You bet. Would it taste better made with fresh, in-season corn? Probably. Has that stopped me from spooning a heaping portion onto my plate everything fourth Thursday in November for the past 30 years? Nope! And it never will.

“Angel corn” has been a part of my family’s holiday spread as far back as I can remember. Growing up, it was like crack to me, my sister, and my cousins — a magnificent excuse for a vegetable. As far as kid-approved sides go, it was right up there with Grandma’s pineapple-strawberry jello mold, which somehow passed for fruit and was inexplicably laid out alongside the turkey instead of the pumpkin pie.

In my memory at least, Grandma made angel corn every single year she hosted the holiday, and then my mom and Aunt Laura carried on the tradition after the baton had been passed their way. (Coincidentally, this was the year after an incident involving salt in the sugar bowl and some inedibly salty-to-the-point-that-we-all-spat-it-out unfortunate whipped cream.) Even when we celebrated with my dad’s side, which had its own set of nonnegotiable dishes, I’d beg my mom to make angel corn and bring it. All of which is just a long-winded way to say, for me, it simply wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without this take on corn pudding.

So naturally, on the first year I’m officially hosting our family’s Thanksgiving — complete with Grandpa on the guest list — I asked for the recipe. And I was surprised to learn that angel corn had a costume change somewhere along its journey: I guess one year my aunt tried out a similar recipe that she and my mom ended up liking better, and from there on out, the new version was christened "angel corn," too. (I honestly couldn’t tell you the difference, and neither could my mom. She thinks Grandma might have found her version in the "Joy of Cooking," but there’s nothing called angel corn in the newer editions gracing our bookshelves, and we’re both certain it never involved onions or sour cream.)

Needless to say, I’ll be putting my own spin on the whole spread. My turkey will be free-range and spatchcocked, thank you very much, and you won’t find any jello molds. Alongside all the deliciously mushy beige and orange usual suspects, we are absolutely having something bright green and crunchy.

But I won’t be dragging our “updated” angel corn recipe any further into the 21st century (even though, clearly, my Grandma wouldn't mind). Because for me, the dish’s old-fashionedness — and of course, the nostalgia of just having it at the table — is the whole key to its charm.

Angel Corn Casserole
Serves: 6 to 8

2 (16-ounce) bags frozen corn (or about 4 1/2 to 5 cups fresh corn kernels)
2 large eggs
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives, plus more for optional garnish
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup plus a heaping 1/3 cup crumbled Ritz crackers, divided
Salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper, to taste

By Cory Baldwin

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