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Corn Fritters with Cheese


To celebrate Pittsburgh's 250th anniversary, try these flavorful corn fritters, inspired by ingredients that would have been available to Colonial Pittsburghers.

Very few things about this city have remained constant over the last 250 years. There are still the same three rivers, but they are much easier to cross since the addition of dozens of bridges. Parts of downtown still flood every few years. I wonder if the early settlers put a chair out in front of the house to save a place for their wagons?

In looking through historic documents about what people ate, it's clear that corn was an early staple throughout the country. A relatively easy crop to cultivate and native to the New World, it was used for both food and feed, and could be processed into meal and flour to last the whole winter.

Here's a recipe for my favorite corn fritters, made with ingredients that would have been available to settlers in Western Pennsylvania. In their simplest form, they are cooked corn flour (called masarepa, locally available at Reyna Foods on Penn Avenue in the Strip District) mixed with boiling water and then fried, baked or grilled. The plain ones can be split and filled with cheese, or you can mix other ingredients such as kernel corn, chopped cooked bacon or ham, or finely chopped peppers right into the batter. I like to add shredded queso blanco or mozzarella to create corn cakes that are crispy on the outside and soft and cheesy on the inside. Topped with beef stew or marinara sauce, they're a tasty accompaniment to your Fourth of July picnic, and a tribute to those who came (and cooked) before us.


1 cup milk

1 cup water

2 tablespoons butter

2 cups masarepa

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup shredded cheese

Oil to grease the griddle or pan

Heat the milk and water to boiling. Stir in the butter to dissolve. Mix the masarepa in a large bowl with the salt, sugar and cheese. Stir in the milk mixture with a spoon until a sticky dough forms. Cover and let sit until cool enough to handle. Heat the oil on medium heat either on a griddle or in a nonstick pan. Form the dough into balls and press into disks about 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick. Fry until crispy and light-brown on one side and then turn. Cook on the second side until golden but not browned. Drain on paper towels and place onto a cookie sheet to stay warm in a low oven. Serve as a snack or side dish topped with additional shredded cheese.
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