Please join me on a school bus with about 38, six to eight year-olds, on an outing to learn about Polenta, I dare you … I double-dare you!
And here we are in Viadana, Italy boarding our blue bus to go to the farm and learn about corn and polenta.
(Polenta’s name was originally derived from puls, or pulmentum which first names were given to the dish that was the center of the Roman diet. In its earliest days, polenta was made from grain usually millet or spelt, a primitive form of wheat, or cece bean (a.k.a. garbanzo bean, chick pea) flour. Polenta was not made from corn until hundreds of years later; corn itself was not introduced into Europe until 1650. )
So this field trip to Polenta-World was a bit like your first sex education class. You were not old enough to understand all of the nuances of the subject. So instead of starting at the beginning of Polenta, we start in the 1700’s when this polenta family migrated from the southern region of Italy, near Florence, to their present farm near Parma, Italy.
Polenta, as we all know is made from corn. And in the southeastern part of the US, it is know as cornmeal mush. In the northern states or in a swanky restaurant, it is called Polenta and you pay the price to have Polenta on your plate.
Corn, however was not introduced to Europe (the American Indians had a patent on it) until about 1650. But, I digress. These are 6, 7 and 8 year old and they do not CARE when corn was introduced .. only that it tastes good.
So, the Polenta introduction begins in the barn, where the cows used to live. I must say it was quite a nice barn, and 2 cows shared a lovely stall with a round pass-through, something you would never see in an American barn.
I need not remind you that this show and tell is in ITALY and the man is speaking ITALIAN and I have a very, very small Italian vocabulary; and, the Italian teachers with the group were also limited, except the one who taught the English classes.
So, thankfully, the Italians talk with their hands, and some of the words I did understand, and some were like Spanish and with some I just smiled and nodded my head. It seemed to work.
After the orientation the work began. The children were each given a dried ear of corn, a demonstration of how to shuck the outside and remove the kernels. The husks and silk were put in a large yellow plastic trash bag … (I thought for disposal … but I was wrong) and the cobs were, de-corned, and not without some issues but in the end all was done.
Now that the corn is MOSTLY in the bucket, it is taken to the grist mill where the children each take a corn cob handle and play ring-around-the-rosy until it is in powder form. This is a game that some liked a little too much. There was one boy who really wanted to be the head grinder!
Now the corn is ground, reground, and ground again until it is a soft, silky powder. Sifted several times and put into a bowl. The polenta flour is then poured slowly into boiling water and the teacher stirs and stirs and stirs until the polenta becomes thick, but not too thick to pour … and this is where it gets interesting. (Our polenta actually came from a box. I don’t think the powder the children ground went anywhere except to the recycling pile)
The polenta farmer now wet wipes down a round, wooden pizza tray with a handle and with some ceremony pours the polenta on the tray, swirls the tray which spreads the polenta and we all watch in fascination as none of the polenta even gets near the edge, while steamy vapor rises in the air. Magic!
The polenta sits on the tray … steam rising, children wanting desperately to get into it. But, the polenta farmer is wise to these children and takes them all outside, plays a game and then comes back in.
Now that the polenta is cool, he takes a thin wire, attached to small dowels at each end and slides the wire under the polenta, which unsticks it from the wooden tray. He then whips the wire around, under and across the polenta in first one and then a second direction and Voila’, you have squares of polenta.
The adults get first whack at the polenta, because as you will see in the next photo, there is nothing left when the children get into it.
I thought that now the polenta tour would be over. Nope. Nothing is wasted in Italy. That yellow trash bag. Yep~now we get to make corn cob and corn husk dolls for the nativity scene. And it all goes to the school with the teachers. Yikes!
Hope you enjoyed Polenta-World as much as I did. Ciao