Corn Comfort by
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Prompted By Comfort Food

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If the day weren’t too frantically busy, we could sneak out from work for a quick lunch, and that’s where I was introduced to La Mexicana.  Our Community Health Center was just off Oakland’s International Boulevard, in the heart of the Latinx community. The generic storefront restaurant window didn’t give any clue, nor did the plain table or minimal wall decoration, that it was anything special.  But the gentle slapping sound from the kitchen told where the magic happened, where skilled hands prepared homemade tortillas. Not the store-bought, machine-made kind, but a truly made-by-hand rarity. The fresh and chewy tortillas arrived stacked inside the round plastic warmer, and it was always empty by the end of the meal.

A recipe for joy--try this at home!

Sometimes street vendors would appear on the sidewalks, next to a pot of fresh-made tamales, always worth a try.  And sometimes a grateful patient would bring in her own tamales for the staff, sweet with raisins or savory with spiced meat.  Our next-door neighbor’s mother invited us to make tamales with her one New Year’s–it was complicated!  You had to prepare the filling with just the right ingredients and let it simmer, soak the corn husks, mix up the Masa Harina to a soft and fluffy consistency and then assemble the tamales.  Husk, slather of Masa, dollop of filling, deft wrapping and tying of cornhusk, then everything stacked into a large steamer to let them cook for hours.  It was a full day’s work, and it gave me new appreciation for the women hawking tamales on the street or offering them as gifts.

Corn in native to the Americas, home of the revered corn maiden, and perfect for comfort food.  It is essential to many regional dishes, and one of my favorites is the Oaxaca tamale, which comes wrapped in banana leaves with chocolatey mole sauce.  We came across another gem in Costa Rica, where we espied a roadside stand with the sign “Antojitos de Mais” (corn goodies); we hit the brakes, and pulled in to discover tortilla con queso—a corn tortilla served with a soft fresh cheese sauce for dipping, as well as pupusas—corn cakes stuffed with meat, cheese, and beans.  Yum!

For a taste of another corn comfort from Oakland, here’s a tip: stop by Arizmendi co-op bakery on Lakeshore Avenue and get the corn cherry scones, then wash one down with some Peet’s coffee from across the street.  We seek out that guilty pleasure every time we visit–such a joy that we have recreated our own version here in Canada.  It really cozies up a cold morning.  If you can’t visit Oakland, or our house, please do try this at home.

Recipe for corn cherry scones a la Sally (adapted from a Berkeley Cheese Board online recipe)

Preheat oven to 420.

Prepare 2 baking sheets covered with parchment paper.

Mix together:

1 ¾ cup flour

1 Tbsp baking powder

½  tsp baking soda

½ tsp salt

Then stir in:

2/3 cup sugar

Then stir in :

1 ¾ cup cornmeal (medium grind best)

Add in:

1 cup butter

(Cut butter into dried ingredients, until pea-sized or smaller consistency)

Mix in:

1 cup dried pitted cherries

Fold in gently:

1 ¼ cup buttermilk

Pat dough lightly into balls about the size of a lemon.

Roll lightly in sugar to coat

Place about 6 scones per baking sheet  (makes 12-14 scones)

Place in pre-heated oven at 420 for a few minutes, then lower to 375.

Bake for about 22 minutes, rotating the baking sheet midway.

Best served warm, or re-heated in oven.




Profile photo of Khati Hendry Khati Hendry

Characterizations: been there, right on!, well written


  1. Jeff Gerken says:

    A very interesting story, Khati. I have to admit, while I enjoy “American”Mexican food, if that makes any sense, the one thing I have never tried is a tamale. So here’s a question: do you eat the corn husks, or do you just spoon the contents out, or squeeze them out, or what?

    • Khati Hendry says:

      The husk is just for steaming the insides, so no, don’t eat the husk. The tamale should be heated well, and adding salsa is fine. If you don’t like spicy, be sure to ask first what is inside—it varies a lot. A good hot, fresh, light tamale is great, but I have had some that are too dense and glue-like. Nothing like a recommendation from a local to steer you to a good one.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    Thanks for the recipe, Khati. It sounds so delicious that I may have to try it one of these cold winter days!

  3. Dave Ventre says:

    Now I am hungry again!

    One of the joys of my Chicago ‘hood is the abundance of freshly-made Mexican food. Also very dangerous is the crazy-delicious La Reina ice cream sold from pushcarts.

    An aside; I have recently seen the construction “Latinx” decried as being somewhat racist by a small number of people. I think I know why it is used, applaud the sentiment, and have no idea if those who feel this way have much of a point. Not speaking Spanish myself, I can only look and wonder.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      That authentic Mexican food is one thing we do not have enough of where I now live. We got very spoiled with the choices in Oakland. On the other hand, we do have terrific fresh cherries in season. I don’t know about the correct use of the suffix either—maybe fashion is swinging again.

  4. John Shutkin says:

    A great, mouth-watering story, a terrific recipe and some good dining advice. Sadly, my wife doesn’t appreciate either Mexican food or corn generally, so I’m not sure when I can savor any of this — particularly on the East Coast. But she may just fall for the scones. At the least, I can vicariously enjoy your happy consumption.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Sometimes people don’t appreciate food because they never had a good version (I have had some perfectly awful “Mexican” food—especially in Iowa—heavy and soggy and doused in some canned sauce…), but people are also entitled to their own tastes. Fried baloney? As you suggest, she (and you) may well enjoy the scones.

  5. Wow, thanks for the delicious sounding recipe but I’ll enjoy vicariously as I avoid the dairy. Your description of learning to make tamales was riveting and mouth watering. It was interesting to learn, in Spain, that they used the word “tortilla” for a potato-based, pie-shaped product, from which they served wedges. (Other vegetables were sometimes added to the potato filling.)

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Thanks for that clarification—you are right about the Spanish tortilla—very different from the Mexican version! Coincidentally, we just had a homemade Spanish tortilla this week, potatoes and all (modified from NYT version—yes, you can throw other things in there), and it is also quite wonderful.

  6. Marian says:

    Thanks for a trip back to my old haunts, Khati. While corn no longer is in my diet, I do miss those great tortillas and pupusas, which my brother introduced me to after he returned from the Peace Corps in El Salvador.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Good to have those memories, even if the stomach is no longer willing. Your brother must have been on El Salvador before the war, I am guessing. That poor country has been through so much. Many refugees ended up in the Bay Area.

  7. Suzy says:

    Wonderful story, Khati, and I love all those Mexican foods you describe! My mouth is watering as I read! We do have great Mexican food in Sacramento too. When I was still working I used to order homemade tamales from a woman who delivered to my office, and they were incredible.

    I am probably not going to attempt the recipe you posted, but will definitely go to Oakland to get those corn cherry scones.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Truth be told, I let Sally make the scones. Personally, I think the student has surpassed the master (Arizmendi)—but do try the ones at Arizmendi (with the coffee) though, especially when super fresh. Maybe if I’m back visiting the area some day we can meet up there.

  8. Marian says:

    Yes, Khati, I have a soft spot for the Salvadorans. My brother was in San Vicente province and was evacuated during the war (along with the other volunteers) and moved to Costa Rica, where I visited him. I love Costa Rica to this day, but my brother was frustrated because El Salvador needed the help so much more than Costa Rica, considered a developing middle income country.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      El Salvador still needs a lot of help. It was, and still is, dangerous as well. I’m sure the Peace Corps was concerned about your brother but it must have been frustrating to be in a less needy post. On the other hand, there are things we can learn from Costa Rica, especially on environmental and peace policies.

  9. Thanx Khati!
    Although Mexican food is usually not my first choice, after reading your story I think I’ll give it another try.
    And the scones sound delish!

  10. Betsy Pfau says:

    Your warm enthusiasm and knowledgable advice about true Mexican food is most appreciated, Khati. I’m afraid here in greater Boston, we only get poor Tex/Mex, but what you’ve described sounds really delicious.

  11. I love good Mexican food, it’s a staple, and it’s abundant here in north Orange County. Our neighbors brought us homemade tamales on Christmas Eve. But I’d sure like to come to your house for one of those corn cherry scones! If only!!

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Yes, if only! I didn’t realize that tamales were a Christmas thing until I lived in Oakland, but I guess it’s a little like the turkey dinner or other cultural food celebrations. Both turkey and tamales take a lot of time and love to do well.

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