Fig+Bleu Elsewhere: Baking Society

It has been a hot summer, a suffocating heat.  I did my best to escape it and I think it broke sometime this week.  I went to Denver and Los Angeles, Dallas and Seattle.  Today was my birthday, and I want to celebrate the year how I did for my 23rd:  by continuing to do what I love and remember those who have loved me.

I haven't been baking much, even something as precious as creation has its limits in 110* heat.  It doesn't mean I'm not creating.  I am writing, I am growing, developing and connecting.  I was given the opportunity to work on a series of posts for Baked on their blog, Baking Society.  It's a series focusing on Midwest baking, Heartland recipes.  I share the story with you below, but you can find the rest of the recipe here.

New England Corn Cake

There is a pulse in the Midwest on American cooking that beats like nowhere else. It’s called the Heartland for this reason. Food piled high on the fold out tables of church basements and on the worn farm tables, as smooth as river rock. I remember it from my childhood, from when I visited my relatives in small towns that followed creek beds, where a pale blue water tower stood like the Colossus of Rhodes. Where my great-grandmother’s house was bulldozed and we picked up stones from the rubble like souvenirs. Where the roads stretched out like promises, but you only ever went as far as the Dairy Queen down the street.

I come from a town of Versailles, Indiana and it’s pronounced, plainly and unapologetically, how it’s spelled.  My mother lived humbly and her father was a truck driver. My dad’s family were farmers, decades of farming that formed callouses on their lifelines. My dad often describes the golden light of the sunsets on the farm. He also describes how he nearly drowned in a creek one summer. His mother never cooked vegetables, so they never ate vegetables. He left and joined the military when he graduated high school.

He had a brother that stayed behind and we’d visit his house on the farm in the summer. Blackberries twisted around the porch lattice and stained the white fence purple. A sun-bleached two-liter soda bottle was filled with water and you’d wash the juices off your hands before dinner with it. We’d pick the blackberries and make baskets from our shirts. My siblings and I grew up in Pennsylvania, on a plot of land covered with shale. All that grew were twisted peach trees, rotten on the ground, the pits crunching beneath our feet. We weren’t used to foraging, to fresh fruit. We were greedy and the bleeding juices dripped off our teeth when we smiled. We would go home that night, asleep in the backseat while our parents counted the mile markers instead of talking to one another. We were covered in mosquito bites and thorns stuck in our hair.

The Midwest to me has that sort of dichotomy. It’s a foil to itself. A place of dreamers who speak in idioms. A place where your teeth ache from sweet cakes at a church potluck and your feet ache from running as fast as you can in a race with your cousins. A place where the light hits every acre of your family’s farm except the plot called Tanglewood, where the Baptist church was. The church that buried women with heirloom names—Bernice, Eunice, and Ruth. The church that produced a cookbook one summer to highlight the women of the community that surrounded my family’s farm.

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing recipes from this cookbook. Recipes that follow the seasons and are classically American, unapologetically Midwestern. Some are written by relatives, some are written by strangers, but all are a part of me. They tell a story that I cannot tell; creating an autobiography of a town that has 2,000 people and a lot of heart. They map a genealogy of those who baked before me and explain the reason I cook my cornbread in cast iron and understand that the thorns are worth the reward. I am excited to share my personal portrait of American baking with you, and I start with what this little cookbook of mine calls a “New England Corn Cake”, which I topped with a sour cream icing and blackberries.

Find the recipe here.

Cherry and Corn Far Breton

I've been doing a lot of thinking about home.  The threaded yarn that braids my siblings to the same farmland as me.  I made a Hoosier Pie last week and I thought it would satiate this deep hunger to feel connected.  It didn't.  I thought about going to church and feeling part of a community.  That feeling passed as quickly as it came.

The fact of the matter is, the ghost of the Midwest breeds in you.  It grows like a tumor and spreads like wildfire.  I've always lived in the limns between home and journey, between the concrete and the destination.  When I think of home, I think of cornfields and highways.  I think of the swaying of wheat fields and how you can either be crucified like a scarecrow or lost in the hedge maze.  Everyone I've talked to feels liminal, at the roughshod corners of two in-betweens.  It's what the Midwest is, by definition.  The in-between.  The forgotten.  It's a genetic abnormality to hold onto that gossamer strand of satisfaction and horror when you know there are still places that exist where pies sit on windowsills and you'll never be able to call those places home again.

I described this phenomenon as the Potato Salad Diaspora.  A dispersal, an exodus.  No homeland to go back to, the gates closed behind our family.  I only know the world through sense memory, through muscle memory.  Through fingerprints that left smudges on a set of silver.  On old bonds I cashed in for a hundred dollars last week.  The corn silk that stuck like cobwebs to your sweater, your finger tips, your eyelashes.  It all became folklore to someone like me, lost in his own mind and a refugee in the same home where I once stood on a phonebook and watched my grandmother cook eggs.  

Two flavors I remember well from those days are corn and cherries.  Of the earth, in their rawest form.  Toothsome, sensory.  Messy.  Spit out the pits over the sink, shucking corn in the bag.  It was primitive in its own way, messy on my blue jeans.  I loved every minute of it and I recreated those flavors in a French custard--a cherry and corn far breton

Bourbon-Soaked Cherry and Sweet Corn Far Breton

A French custard desert, made with bourbon-soaked cherries (too bad I used up my stock making this cake again) and a corn puree.  The flavors burst like dying embers of summer.  Adapted from David Lebovitz's recipe. Note: Preparation for this dessert is 8-12 hours.


  • 2 cups pitted cherries (frozen works too)
  • 1/3 cup warmed bourbon 
  • 2 ears corn
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup + 2 TB white sugar
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2/3 cup flour


  1. Heat 1/3 cup bourbon in a saucepan until warmed and throw in cherries.  Add two tablespoons white sugar and allow for cherries to soak in juices and bourbon, macerating slightly in the sugar.  Sit for at least four hours, but continue on to step two.
  2. Shuck corn.  Using a box grater, grate corn over bowl.  It is a messy process, but you should end up with a mashed corn pulse and a fair amount of liquid.  Discard cob and repeat with second ear of corn.  Set aside.
  3. Put all ingredients in a blender, including corn pulp, and pulse until fully blended.  It should be a very pale yellow color with minimal lumps. Refrigerate mixture 4 hours (preferably overnight).
  4. When ready, preheat oven to 400*F.  Thoroughly butter and flour baking dish (I used ceramic).  Drain cherries, but reserve two tablespoons of liquor.
  5.  Add liquor to the batter and blend for a second to reconstitute.
  6. Place cherries in baking dish, making sure to spread out
  7. Pour batter through a mesh strainer over cherries in baking dish, going slowly and gently, wiping sides with rubber spatula to get all liquid
  8. Bake for 35 minutes at 400*F.  Reduce to 350* and tent with tin foil to avoid excessive browning.  Bake for an additional 12 minutes or until set in the middle and a toothpick comes out clean (could take up to 20 minutes, depending on oven consistency).
  9. Dust with confectioner's sugar and best served warm or at room temperature.  Can keep for two days in fridge.

Caramel Corn Popsicle (in honor of Popsicle Week!)

My parents left on a plane yesterday and I am not sure if I will see them next at Christmas or in the summer of next year.  It was a good trip, bittersweet in its shortness and seeing more lines crack around my dad's eyes.  Wounds run as deep as roots in my family, and I can't speak on their absence much right now.  

Except those small sidestories my mother told to fill the gaps in conversation reminded me of home.  Even the trip to Wal-Mart right after they landed reminded me of home, the amount of snacks they bought, their insistence to pay for everything.  I remember when I brought my first boyfriend to my parents' home in Pennsylvania, I was 15.  He grabbed a handful of snack cakes and a bag of chips and we hid ourselves in my room, watching movies and holding hands in the blue light of the TV set.  I remember when I took a boy to New York for Christmas the first year we dated and we took a bus back to my home at three in the morning.  We sat up watching a dog show and eating pickles and caramel popcorn out of those old holiday-themed tins.

It all came back to me, because those times were relics of home.  The old brass bed I slept on, cradled in boys' arms.  The trips to New York.  Bags of groceries from Wal-Mart.  Those old tins of popcorn that were reused as robot bodies and yarn storage.  My mother knitted me a scarf once in the dead middle of August, making use of her sabbatical from the candy store and I sat in the air conditioned room and modeled it for her, my peach slices in one hand and a popsicle in the other.  She had some leftover candied popcorn from my brother's wedding the month before and munched on it while we watched TV.  It was caramel-flavored, "just like the kind you." 

Home has become sense-memories now.  It can get confused between season and even year.  Novelty popcorn in old dented tins, syrup running down my wrist.  The TV in the background and the love for home in the foreground. I realize I won't have those moments back anytime soon, they left on a plane, departing San Diego to Albuquerque in the second terminal a little over twelve hours ago.

And to fill the time today, I made popsicles for Billy's Popsicle Week.  I might not have found my home yet, but I am amassing a community of bloggers that keep me distracted, entertained, inspired, and laughing all at once.  Wit and Vinegar is one of these bloggers.  Because of this, I was happy to recreate a memory through this popsicle, to make a caramel corn popsicle that was a fun twist on a classic from anyone's childhood.  Maybe home is just in sense memory, but maybe I can recreate those moments whenever I want.  And you can, too!  Recipe is below.

And if you don't know what Popsicle Week is, then go check out Billy's blog for more details.  Here's last year's list of participants, and I am so happy to be a part of it this year! 

Caramel Corn Popsicle

This recipe is for four popsicles, because that's as many as my mold made, but you can double this recipe easily


  • 1 cup coconut cream
  • Kernels from two ears of corn
  • 2 tablespoon honey
  • Store-bought or homemade caramel, brought to the softball stage for dipping (approx 1/4 cup)
  • Pinch of flaked sea salt


  1. Preheat oven to 450*F and roast kernels on a baking sheet for 10-15 minutes until fragrant
  2. Take out of oven and allow to cool
  3. In a blender, blend cream, honey, and roasted kernels until as liquified as possible
  4. Use a fine mesh strainer to remove any large fibrous bits of corn, but reserve corn-infused cream mixture in a bowl or measuring cup (for easy pouring)
  5. Lay out popsicle sticks onto a sheet of parchment paper and dip then halfway into a cup of caramel, return to parchment and allow to dry as much as possible
  6. Pour strained corn mixture into popsicle molds and freeze
  7. Allow to freeze for 45 minutes to one hour before putting sticks in, to ensure they are frozen enough to hold the sticks up
  8. Allow to freeze 6+ hours or until hardened
  9. Sit at room temperature for 3 or so minutes or dip in warm water for a few seconds.  Remove popsicles from molds and sprinkle with a little salt.  Enjoy!