No Furlough, No Corn-Shucking, No Thanksgiving

It’s the Monday before Thanksgiving, and I’m thinking about the special dried corn Grandma made each year for the holiday.

A hundred years ago, in 1917, quarantined in his barracks, Grandpa was thinking about corn, too. He’d entered the service as a farmer, and wanted to get home to help with the fall harvest and shucking (or husking) of corn. Family, neighbors, and farm hands gathered on Midwestern farms to remove the husks from corn before storing it over the winter as food for the animals.

Grandpa in Garden, corn

Grandpa, 1962, tending corn in the garden near their home in Effingham, Kansas.

His younger brother Marshall had secured the necessary affidavit for Grandpa’s furlough. But he never made it home. The Monday before Thanksgiving, on November 26, he wrote, “I still am doubtful about the furlow for corn shucking.” His correspondence stopped that day, picking up a week later from his hospital bed. No furlough, no corn shucking, and no Thanksgiving at home, either.

“I guess you are preparing for Thanksgiving,” he wrote in that same letter, “wish I could eat with you, but guess I will spend the day in Funston.”

If he’d made it home, I’m guessing there would have been dried corn on the table. This delicacy was a tradition in Grandma’s family. When she shared memories with my father, probably in the 1970s, she talked about the way they dried corn on their King City farm—the sweet variety, I presume, and not the field corn intended as animal feed.

We cut it off the cob, in two or more layers. At home we would first heat it in the oven, then spread it on a clean sheet and put it on the porch roof to dry. I no longer do it that way. I dry it in the oven. For several days I heat it to help to dry it faster—but spread it out in pans. While it is in the oven, it has to be watched carefully, so it does not burn and spoil the pretty golden color.

As kids, we enjoyed watching corn grow in our grandparents’ big garden. On long summer vacations, we were allowed to pick the ears of corn and shuck them in the evening on the wide, outdoor porch. Grandma would remind us to start slowly at the top, and pull back the husk and silk in one smooth movement. “Otherwise,” she’d say, “you’ll have a mess.” She probably had a mess cleaning all the silk we’d failed to pull away. Some of that corn became her famous dried corn.

If you’ve never had dried corn–and now I’m talking about the dish made from those carefully dried kernels with their pretty golden color–imagine a nutty flavored, creamy, sweet delight. Not having her recipe, I try my best to make something similar for my family. I rehydrate the dried kernels in milk overnight, and then slowly heat them on Thanksgiving day, adding enough butter, cream and sugar to bring back sweet memories from my childhood.

Grandma, Marcia and me, 1954

My older sister Marcia, Grandma and me in our neighborhood, Lawrence, Kansas, 1954.