Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Corn Casserole Side with a few Asides about the First Thanksgiving by Cleo Coyle

Honestly, I haven't thought about the details of the first Thanksgiving since probably grade school (a long, long time ago). For this post, I decided to do a little homework, which led to today's side dish recipe (along with some ironic asides). The recipe I'll get to shortly. First, some basic American history (asides included).

As the story goes…

An American Indian named Samoset entered a village of people from England. These Pilgrims were not in good condition. They lived in dirt-covered shelters, many of them had died during the hard winter, and they were running short on food. 

(No, they were not part of Occupy Plymouth. The year was 1621. :))

Clearly, these early colonists needed help. So Samoset returned to his tribe and came back with Squanto, who could speak better English. (Wait....The illegal aliens of 1621 didn't bother to learn the native language? Nope. Not gonna touch that.)

Squanto remained with the Pilgrims for the next few months and taught them how to hunt deer, where to fish and find berries, and how to cultivate "sacred maize" by digging holes in the ground, dropping in some corn kernels and small fish, and covering the holes. (Wow. Squanto was one cool guy. I'm seeing The Squanto Story - Tom Cruise with a ponytail. No go? Adam Beach maybe? Fine, we'll do lunch...)

By the time fall arrived, the Pilgrims were getting along much better, thanks to the help they'd received. 

(Yes, I know. Given what came to pass in our nation's history with the Native Americans, this has to strike you as a case of "no good deed goes unpunished," but let's not go there. Like the honeymoon before the eventual divorce, let's focus on the sweeter parts of this relationship's history.)

With the coming of fall, the Pilgrims decided to celebrate their blessings with a feast that was common in rural England. Those who helped reap the fields took part in the Harvest Home, observed on last day of bringing in the crops. This feast coincided with the Green Corn Festival, which Native Americans in that region had been celebrating long before the Pilgrims' arrival. This feast gave thanks for the ripening of maize, one of the three sisters in Native American agricultural traditions. (The other two sisters are beans and squash. Okay, that isn't ironic. But it is interesting!) 

And so, with giving thanks for harvest blessings being the primary point here (along with Squanto's rather obvious play for Academy Award consideration)...

Cleo Coyle, amazed by
the story of Thanksgiving
maize, is the author of The
Coffeehouse Mysteries
I am happy to share my own maize recipe with you. (No, I did not make it for the first Thanksgiving. I'm not that old... :)) But Marc and I do sincerely hope that you enjoy the blessings of this year’s harvest in your home.


A few recipe notes...

My husband and I often enjoy this recipe in the late fall. Its cheesy goodness is incredibly satisfying on a chilly day, and it pairs well with most meat entrees. Because my recipe uses frozen corn, I make it all winter. I like to vary the recipe, too, sometimes using a frozen corn blend, sometimes frozen mixed vegetables. 


The Pepper Jack Cheese adds a nice zing of spicy flavor to the casserole. If you enjoy Tex-Mex dishes, you'll love the use of Pepper Jack here. However, if you'd rather keep the recipe totally creamy and cheesy and not spicy in any way, simply replace the Pepper Jack with regular Monterey Jack. Or you can ask Avery Aames for advice!


"Latino Blend" is our favorite frozen corn and veggie mix to use with this casserole. (It's made by Hanover frozen vegetables and it's what you see in my photos.) This blend includes red and green peppers and even black beans, so don't be afraid to experiment and add a favorite cooked legume to our recipe if you can't locate this frozen veggie blend. 

"Southwestern Corn" is another delicious frozen blend that's wonderful in this casserole and also includes red and green peppers and a bit of spicy heat in the flavoring. Bird's Eye makes this one under their Steamfresh brand.


Finally, if you'd rather make a recipe that uses canned corn, I've got you covered, too! Mary Jane Maffini shared a wonderful canned corn casserole recipe earlier this year. Click here to see that one. 

Riley Adams (aka Elizabeth S. Craig) contributed a corn pudding recipe, as well. For Riley's corn pudding recipe, click here.

Cleo Coyle's
Corn Casserole 

To download this recipe in a free PDF that you can print, save, or share, click here.

Makes one 1-1/2 quart casserole side dish,
about 6 to 8 servings


2 slices bacon, chopped
1 large white onion, chopped
1 (12-ounce) bag frozen corn or a corn and vegetable mixture (See suggestions above and my *Frost Alert note below.) 

2 Tablespoons Wondra flour (See my note below.)
1 cup milk (whole or 2%)
2 Tablespoons butter, plus a little more to coat the casserole dish
8 ounces Pepper Jack cheese, grated (If pre-sliced from deli, simply break up into small pieces)

1 egglightly beaten with fork

* Wondra flour note: If you've never used Wondra, look for its blue cardboard canister in the same grocery store aisle that shelves all-purpose flour. It's a handy little helper for thickening gravies and making quick sauces. If you can't find it, use regular flour and stir like crazy to prevent lumps. Learn more here.

*FROST WARNING – For best results, use frozen vegetables that have been purchased recently. If you see frost on your vegetables, do not simply add them to the pan or you’ll introduce extra liquid to the casserole. To fix frosted frozen veggies, place them in a colander and run warm water over them until the frost disappears. Drain very well and use paper towels to sop up as much liquid as you can before using in this recipe.

Step 1: Quick prep: First preheat your oven to 350º F. Butter a casserole dish that holds at least 1-1/2 quarts and set aside.

Step 2: Browning your bacon: Slowly cook the chopped bacon in a deep saucepan until brown. Add the chopped white onion. Sweat the onions until they turn a light brown. Stir in the 12-ounce bag of frozen corn (or mixed veggie blend). Continue cooking and stirring over low heat for about a minute. Pour into your buttered casserole dish. Set aside.

Step 3: How to make cheese sauce (and speak French)

(a) In a little bowl, cream the 2 T butter with the 2 T Wondra flour to make a paste. Congratulations, you have just created the classic French "kneaded butter," aka buerre manié. Set aside this little paste and pull out a clean saucepan. 

(To learn why "kneaded butter" is a great technique for making sauces click here.) 

(b) Pour your 1 cup of milk into the saucepan and warm it well. Whisk the butter-flour paste into the warm milk, a little at a time until dissolved. Bring milk up to a simmer and continue whisking and simmering for 1 to 3 minutes. When the sauce thickens, remove from heat and quickly stir in 6 ounces of your grated cheese. Mix well. When the cheese is melted and the sauce velvety, it's done.

Step 4: Assemble and bake:  Now you can assemble the casserole. Into the casserole dish with the veggies (from Step 2), stir the lightly beaten egg. (The veggies should now be cool enough for you to add the egg without cooking it, which is why you wait until this step.) 

Pour the cheese sauce over the veggies and mix well. Top with the remaining 2 ounces or so of grated (or broken up) cheese, and bake in the center of your preheated oven for 45 to 55 minutes (depending on your oven). The casserole is done when you see the top is brown and crusty and the edges are bubbling. Allow to cool at least five minutes to firm up a bit. Serve warm and...

Have a Happy

May we all count our 
blessings and...

Eat with joy!

~ Cleo Coyle, author of 

To get more of my recipes,
enter to win free coffee, or
learn about my books,
including my bestselling
Haunted Bookshop series,
visit my online coffeehouse:

The Coffeehouse Mysteries are national bestselling
culinary mysteries set in a landmark Greenwich Village 
coffeehouse, and each of the ten titles includes the 
added bonus of recipes. 


The Ghost and
Mrs. McClure

Book #1 of 

The Haunted Bookshop
, which Cleo writes
under the name Alice Kimberly
To learn more, click here.


  1. What an awesome side dish, I always use wondera... every time I post something with it, no one knows what it is! Got to try this one! Happy Holiday Season!

  2. Cleo, I love this dish, and I have to admit the Pepper Jack sounds like fabulous and spicy fun. So I would stick with that. {For the Gluten-free people, sub out the Wondra and you're set.}

    Funny thing. I was just doing some Thanksgiving research myself because I've got the twins in the next Cheese Shop book I'm writing doing a original Thanksgiving play, which centers around the relationship between the Indians and settlers, so I just read your history lesson again to see if I missed anything. Thanks! You nailed it, of course. LOL


  3. Looks yummy! I love corn. It may have something to do with living in nebraska when i was young. : )

  4. What a lovely side dish, Cleo. I bet it's as delicious as it looks. I always make too many side dishes for Thanksgiving, but I may have to add this one.

    ~ Krista

  5. Loved your Thanksgiving history review, Cleo! And the asides (Occupy Plymouth--ha!) Looking forward to cooking this delicious corn casserole--easy and tasty is right up my alley!

  6. There is a huge "green bean casserole" moratorium
    here at Chez Phillipe and I think this version of corn casserole may fill the spot ;-)

    As one of my many brilliant homeschooling lessons we did a Squanto meets the Pilgrims T'giving one year...it will not go down in "Gosh our mom came up with some great lessons for us" annals but it was informative :-) I think Squanto and the gang would have loved this recipe...

    Nanc...who is wondering if the Occupy Detroit gang will get kicked out tonight..

  7. I'm telling you, I don't know how we're going to be able to eat all this food at the small WatHawk family Thanksgiving. Everything sounds so *good*!

  8. Thanks to everyone for dropping by and leaving such kind comments.

    Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse Mystery.com
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter