In The Anthracite Coal Region and throughout Pennsylvania, we hold tradition in high esteem, particularly when it comes to our holiday meals. When families and friends sit down to celebrate a special occasion, chances are there will be several “must-have” dishes on the table that have been a constant through generations.
For many in central Pennsylvania, a John Cope’s Dried Sweet Corn side dish will proudly take it’s place on the Thanksgiving dinner table alongside the turkey, filling, cranberry sauce, and gravy.
Holidays (particularly Thanksgiving and to a lesser extent Christmas and Easter) and Cope’s corn go hand-in-hand for a lot of families, especially those in areas with a Pennsylvania Dutch influence. Whether in the form of stewed (creamed) corn or a baked casserole, there are many families who consider this perennial favorite a “must-have” on the table.
Cope’s dried sweet corn has a taste all it’s own; intensely “corn-y”, sweet, with caramelized over-tones and a unique texture that come from the drying process, it earned a spot atop my family’s list of “comfort food”.
Growing up in Schuylkill County (PA), its location allowed my family easy access to Cope’s corn in local grocery stores. Most easily attainable within the 100 mile radius that surrounds the company headquarters in the town of Rheems in the heart of Lancaster County and Pennsylvania Dutch country, the John Cope Company (now owned by Hanover Foods) is the only producer that makes this dried sweet corn.
Product distribution is not country-wide (USA) leaving many ex-pats scrambling to purchase the product on-line from shops like Pennsylvania General Store and Amazon or receiving “care packages” of Cope’s corn sent to them far and wide by family and friends.
The history behind the tradition
Colonists preserved corn by drying it on trays in the sun or on wood-burning stoves. With the advent of canning, this method was largely abandoned except in some traditional Amish and PA Dutch households.
in 1900, Martin Cope founded the John Cope brand of dried sweet corn (John was Martin’s grandson). The company used coal burning stoves to dry kernels of fresh corn. Unlike canning or freezing, this process preserves fresh corn’s naturally high sugar content before it is able to transform into starches. This process also preserves the nutrients, concentrates the flavor, and gives the corn a distinctive golden color.
Today’s Cope’s corn
More than a century has gone by since Martin Cope packaged and sold his first batches of dried sweet corn. In today’s processing, sweet corn is trucked from across the mid-Atlantic region, July to October, to Cope’s factory in Rheems, PA.
Cope’s uses corn varieties like Silver Queen that are known for their exceptional sweetness. The kernels are cut from the cob and thousand-pound batches are roasted at a low temperature for about eight hours.
During most of the cooking time, employees work 24 hours a day turning the corn with big yellow plastic shovels to help it cook evenly. All that work pays off. The slow, even cooking caramelizes the corn, accentuating its sweetness while giving it a nutty, rich flavor. Their last step is to crack the corn into smaller pieces which makes for quicker cooking at home.
Have it your way
Cope’s includes recipes on the package for a couple ways to prepare the corn. My family’s chosen way to enjoy Cope’s was stewed (creamed). The corn is soaked for several hours in milk and heavy cream, then seasonings are added and the mixture is simmered on the stove top for about 30 minutes. The result is the tastiest creamed corn I ever ate.
Cope’s corn can also be added to soups and chowders or baked into a casserole. If you prefer your Cope’s in casserole form, here is the recipe for Cope’s Baked Corn Supreme (see recipe card below for the stewed corn recipe). The corn must be whirled in a food processor or blender to break up the kernels before using in this recipe.
COPE’S BAKED CORN SUPREME
1 (7.5-ounce) pouch John Cope’s dried sweet corn, pulsed in blender or food processor
5 cups cold milk
3 1/2 Tablespoons butter or margarine
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
4 whole eggs, beaten well
Pre-heat oven to 375F degrees.
Butter a 2-quart casserole, set aside.
In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and stir together thoroughly. Pour into prepared casserole dish..
Bake 60 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.
Cope’s Stewed (Creamed) CornCourse: SidesCuisine: PA Dutch, Coal RegionDifficulty: Easy
Serves 4 to 6
1 (7.5 ounce) package Cope’s dried corn
3 cups milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 Tablespoons butter
Ground black pepper
- Place dried corn in a large bowl and cover with milk and heavy cream. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate a minimum of 4 hours, but preferably overnight.
- Transfer corn mixture to a large saucepan. Add sugar, salt, and butter. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 to 35 minutes. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve hot or hold warm over low heat until ready to serve.
- Adapted from R.W. APPLE’S CREAMED CORN