Corn pudding speaks to garden leader’s dual heritage
Venice Williams, a Milwaukee resident since 1988, is executive director of Alice’s Garden, a 2-acre urban farm that has community plots available for rent and a labyrinth at 2136 N. 21st St.
She founded the Body and Soul Healing Arts Center in 2013, a community space for the promotion of culture, the arts, food and spirituality. You may find her at local markets with an array of herbal spritzes, balms and teas.
She shared with me a special recipe that was given to her, for corn pudding, along with a few of her own Thanksgiving traditions.
“Corn pudding itself goes back to my family heritage both on the African-American side and Choctaw side,” she says, “and almost everyone has a corn pudding or corn pone recipe that comes out during the holidays.
“Corn was a staple in so many Native Americans’ lives, and so many recipes came from that corn. This recipe honors that,” she says.
She learned this specific recipe from a 97-year-old African-American woman named Elizabeth Perry. She was the mother of a professor at Valparaiso University in Indiana, where Williams was a student. Williams would sit with Perry when Perry’s daughter Margaret was out of town. Williams was an older student, and “being able to connect culture and heritage with this woman was a blessing.”
Williams makes corn pudding every year, whether she is hosting or visiting family. She says it is beloved by her family and that now her children make it for their families.
This year will be a special Thanksgiving, as Williams is hosting and her 98year-old grandmother will be visiting her in Milwaukee for the first time. “She was the first cook and gardener in my life,” Williams says.
An important practice for Williams is recognizing the complicated nature of Thanksgiving and honoring “the native folks before this Thanksgiving tradition, whose foodstuffs came from this land. That’s why corn matters to me. I can’t have my corn pudding and corn bread and not remember those native groups.”
Her family treats Thanksgiving as a day of gratitude and marks each place setting with the name of an American Indian tribe.
You can find Williams at the Outpost Makers Market, 1617 W. North Ave., from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursdays or noon to 3 p.m. Saturdays through April, where she offers a suite of aromatic products made from herbs grown at Alice’s Garden.
A few of her most popular products include herbal spritzers (a perfect host gift) in holiday-worthy scents of cinnamon-clove, tangerine-spearmint or orange-rosemary. She has luscious creams made with shea butter, olive oil and rue sage that are soothing for winter-weary hands.
She also carries an intense joint pain cream that often sells out, made with marjoram, basil, wintergreen, camphor, peppermint, orange and cinnamon.
Anna Thomas Bates is a mother, writer and cheesemaker who lives in southern Wisconsin. Email her at email@example.com.
Corn pudding, a staple on the Thanksgiving table for Venice Williams, has both whole-kernel and creamed corn.