Saturday, November 29, 2014

Of Couture and Corn

The holiday weekend rolls on, with yesterday's highlight an outing to the Museum of Fine Arts, ostensibly to see their current exhibition of Goyas.  I found an unexpected treat, however, that very nearly outshone even the master's portrait of the Duchess of Alba (not, of course, the recently deceased edition thereof - she was old, but not that old...).

In addition, you see, to the blockbuster-style, enormously crowded, highly over-curated show of Goyas great and small, the Museum is currently featuring, tucked away in a smallish gallery on the second floor, a rather fabulous little show of Hollywood gowns and jewelry.  Well, as you can imagine, I was entranced.

Now, I like a Goya now and then - although I far prefer his portraits to his dark fancies and more nightmarish flights of, to me, rather labored madness - but show me a Travis Banton and I'm hooked.  Here we see, center, an ensemble created for Gloria Swanson by her house designer, René Hubert, flanked by a Howard Greer ready-to-wear on the left and a fetching creation by Adrian for Joan Crawford, for 1931's This Modern Age.   The Hubert is a little miracle of tailoring, every element - from the cut of the jacket to the scale of the beaded flowers - conspiring to do everything possible to make teeny-tiny Swanson (barely five feet, remember) seem taller, svelter, more.  It works.  The Adrian was meant to make Crawford seem more girlish and ladylike in a repentant phase of the picture, while the Greer is almost startlingly contemporary - it would as entirely at home at Bergdorf's today as it did when offered at I. Magnin all those years ago.

Along with the other treasures on display - a Banton for Mae West, another for Dietrich, a lamé cocktail number worn by Greer Garson, some Chinese evening pajamas for Norma Shearer and a dozen or so more - there are some remarkable pieces of jewelry; I was especially interested to see Crawfords's aquamarine demi-parure, which appears in stills for The Women (although I don't remember if she actually wears it inthe picture - anyone know?).  But, the dresses aside, I think the highlight has to have been the chance to see in person Miss West's legendary 8 1/2 inch cheater heels - a towering three level feat of engineering that allowed the almost-as-a-small-as-Swanson seductress to appear height-weight proportionate in her hourglass ensembles.  One can certainly see why she didn't move all that much...

On the home front, we're continuing to pick away at the remnants of Thursday's traditional goodies; My Dear Sister has a vast stockpot of turkey soup simmering away even as I type, and the last of the pies have gone for this morning's breakfast.  I was very pleased with my own contributions to the festivities; the Port Wine Salad, as always, went down a treat, while the corn pudding was nothing less than a triumph.

In response to overwhelming demand - well, dear Yank did ask for it - and because I'm always afraid I'll forget how I did it from one iteration to the next, I thought I'd pass on the recipe.  It's as passed to me by Grandmother Muscato, although she did it differently from time to time - with fresh corn when the season allowed, or with dried corn when she was feeling especially traditional - and it's a dish that responds very well indeed to inventions large and small.

Corn Pudding

1 can creamed corn
1 can plain corn, drained
4 eggs
1 cup of cream
1/2 stick of butter
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
3 tbsp flour
scant tbsp sugar
salt, pepper, sage, and cayenne to taste

Preheat oven to 350F.  Melt the butter and lightly sauté the chopped red pepper.  Separate the eggs, whisking the yolks and beating the whites until stiff.

In a large bowl, mix the flour and sugar.  Add the butter/pepper mix and stir until smooth. Add the whisked egg yolks and stir.  When they form a thick smooth paste, add the cream and stir.  Season with salt, pepper, sage (I used two leaves of fresh minced sage, but dried works fine), and cayenne to taste. Add the creamed and regular corn (I rinse the latter, by the bye, to reduce the canned taste) and stir until well blended.  Now comes the only vaguely tricky part of hte entire concoction:   fold the beaten egg whites into the corn mixture, but stir it only just enough to ensure that the whites are mixed through, so that they still provide significant lift to the nascent pudding.  Now pour it all into into a greased ovenproof dish.  Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  When it comes out of the oven it will likely fall a little, but it's a pudding after all, not a foofy soufflé, so worry not.  If you can, serve immediately; if not, it heats up just fine.  And makes first-rate leftovers, should any survive the first round.

All sorts of variations come to mind.  Next time, I think I may try a shot of sriracha and some parmesan on top.  Some crumbled spicy sausage might make it a nice breakfast dish.  Go wild, but for a pure shot of 1930s goodness (a different 1930s than Travis Banton's true, but still) keep it simple.  And for God's sake, don't skimp on the cream and butter - it's not like anyone's going to sew you into an Adrian bias-cut on Thanksgiving weekend, now is it?


  1. That Greer rather knocks me out. I think I shall require a little corn pudding to revive me. Happy aftermath darling.

  2. Mae's shoes. Gawdalmighty!

  3. "Show me a Travis Banton and I'm hooked" could well be chapter in your autobiography. As could "Turkey pie for breakfast", it seems... Jx

  4. I'm always looking for something fresh to do with corn. You are an angel!

  5. a cup of cream makes everything better, in my experience.