Corn pud­ding speaks to gar­den leader’s dual her­itage

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - FOOD & DINING - ANNA THOMAS BATES

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 tall­grasskitchen@gmail.com.

ANNA THOMAS BATES

Corn pud­ding, a staple on the Thanks­giv­ing ta­ble for Venice Wil­liams, has both whole-ker­nel and creamed corn.

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