Did you know that Old Dutch Corn Chips and Coca-Cola are the world’s best cure for the flu? It’s true. I know this for certain because my mommy told me so. In my family, corn chips and coke is the sick day comfort food de rigeur. People are often shocked when I share this information with them. Especially since I come from a healthy eatin’, gourmet cookin’, organic growin’ kind of family. But we all have our dirty little secrets. My mommy had a mild (read: major) M&M addiction. Me? Chef Boy-Ar-Dee Beefaroni. Yep. For real. Dad? Fried chicken liver and onions (let’s hear it: “EWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!”). My sister reports a varied series of junk food faves ranging from Captain Crunch Cereal (“I loved to eat [it] until the roof of my mouth was all cut up”) to fudgsicles and kraft dinner. My brother hasn’t reported back on my enquiry, but I have this recollection of him really liking corn dogs. I could be making that up.
Anyway, the point is, junk food is often comfort food and in my family, corn chips are one of the ultimate comfort foods. And no, not corn tortilla chips, though those are also good. I’m talkin’ the classic corn chip of Old Dutch and Frito’s fame (I should note that although I grew up with Old Dutch, that may be a Canadian thing. By all reports, those being the ones found on Wikipedia and at the Frito’s website, the Frito’s Corn Chip is the All-American Original). These chips are made with corn meal and … um … corn meal. It gets mixed with some water and salt and then fried.
In the good ol’ US of A, corn chip recipes abound. A classic dish found at county fairs across the country is a bag of corn chips with some chili dumped in it. I kid you not. You open the bag, add the chili and some shredded cheese and eat the mixture out of the bag with a plastic fork. A home-cooking variation on the theme is the corn chip casserole. Of course, there’s always the nice and simple dip it in some french onion dip you bought at the same 24 hour convenience store where you found your corn chips.
A big reason that there are so many corn chip recipes, or corn chips at all for that matter, is the history of corn agriculture in America. I learned this in a course I took on globalization and indigenous peoples a few years ago. I think it may have been in an essay by Ralph Nader, though I could be mis-remembering the exact source of my information. In fact, I caution that this information should be taken with a grain of salt (preferably atop a corn chip) as I may have some of the details wrong – but the general idea is right. Which is that back in the depression, crop prices were so low, the Feds enacted legislation forcing the farmers to keep production low so that prices would stay high. This lasted through the New Deal era and McCarthyism and Beaver Cleaver, but eventually things changed and in the 1970s, people got worried about weather-induced crop failure and suddenly crop restrictions vanished and were replaced by massive government subsidies. Add to that the advent of hi-tech large-farm production and you have a massive glut of corn on the market. The subsidies are still in place, turning organizations like the National Corn Growers’ Association and the American Corn Growers’ Association into massively powerful political lobbies, almost as big as the NRA.
All this means a lot, and I mean a LOT of excess corn on the market. Which is why you find corn in almost every snack product marketed in the United States. If you’re interested in this topic, I can’t give you the reference to the essay I read ’cause the book is packed away somewhere, but I can send you to this PBS site which has tons of information about King Corn and will shock you with a wealth of facts to support the theory that the nefarious corn growers are in a conspiracy with Washington to keep Americans obese and suffering from malnutrition, diabetes and possibly, niacin-deficiency induced pellagra, otherwise known as “redneck disease”.
I still love corn chips and lots of other corn products besides. For today’s blog, since I didn’t have the flu, I couldn’t buy my usual fave, Old Dutch. Instead, I decided to try my hand at making corn chips from scratch. Without access to a deep fat fryer, my options were limited, but I came across this recipe which looked uncomplicated and potentially tasty.
In fact, this was one of only a very few recipes I could find that was for a true corn chip, not a corn tortilla chip. [An aside: corn tortilla chips are made by frying wedges of corn tortillas. They have a very different flavour because they are made with masa harina, a nixtamalized corn flour, and not corn meal. I’m sure there’s a taco day coming up sometime and I’ll tell you more about that then. I love to make my own corn tortillas].
My only concern with this recipe was that it didn’t seem greasy enough so I decided to use an excessive and gross amount of oil on the cookie sheets which amounted pretty much to deep fat frying the chips. My first batch, I chickened out because my cookie sheet didn’t have a rim and I was worried about the oil running off the sheet as it heated up and starting a grease fire in my oven. So after the first batch (pictured), I switched to a pizza pan with a nice high rim and poured a disgusting amount of oil into it. It worked out fine. The chips were a little tough and chewy, but the flavour was nice and they scooped salsa well. My sister-in-law preferred the chewier ones. I liked the ones that I left in the oven longer than the recipe said to leave them in for and they got a little over crunchy. Still, over all … *meh*. Next time I’ll just buy Old Dutch.