Special Feature

Polenta Before Corn

by Michele Anna Jordan


Before corn came to Europe, there was polenta and before polenta, there was puls and pulmentum, Roman names for a porridge similar to polenta, made with millet, chestnut flour, chickpea flour, roasted barley and other grains. Preparation was virtually identical to polenta, and the mixture of ground grain and water was frequently flavored and fortified with milk, cheese, and meats or their sauces. The Greeks, who knew it as poltos, made it with spelt flour, a larger and harder grain than our wheat, also known as farro.

Two centuries before the arrival of corn, buckwheat—known as grano saraceno in Italy—made its way to Europe, introduced by the Saracens, who brought it from central Asia. It was prepared in very much the same way as chestnut flour and barley, and as corn would be. Called both polenta nera and polenta taragna, it remains popular in certain regions of Italy today, Tuscany among them, and the grain is sometimes added to cornmeal for an additional element of flavor, as in Bergamo. In virtually every culture the world around, you will find a similar comfort food, a porridge or pudding or gruel, served soft or allowed to harden, made of the common grain of the land.

by Michele Anna Jordan
Broadway Books
$19.95; 1997
ISBN 0-553-06732-X
Copyright © 1997 Michele Anna Jordan.
Reprinted by permission.



Making Soft Polenta
Polenta Recipes (by Michele Anna Jordan)
Additional Polenta Recipes

Created 1997. Modified August 2007