Corn Pie

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It was the busiest time. It was the most broke time. It was the time of worry and invention.

We were a new group foster home, housing up to 8 teen-aged boys at a time. Kids always arrived at the end of our pay period, but before the next check was cut. It was not uncommon to have two or three new kids arrive one month, but not receive payment for them till two months later. Our budget was extremely tight. A11 our kids were good eaters, as well. Our food budget would often exceed $1000 a month.

During this time, we also were fostering a pair of siblings. They were aged two and three and in themselves a full-time job. Their eating habits were strange, to say the least, since they had been severely neglected. The only thing they knew was junk food and sweets.

As foster parents, we decided we would spend whatever it took to properly feed all kids in our house. We were unprepared for what that meant. My boys could eat several large boxes of cereal a week, three chickens at a meal and 51bs of potatoes at one sitting. Many of our kids had abused alcohol and drugs, part of their recovery involved feeding them very well. As they came off that other junk, food tasted better to them and they were always starved.

But, back to the situation; it was bad. The check was late, and the cupboard was bare. Not one to ask for help, I decided to make the best of it. We were assured the check would be there tomorrow.

I peered into an empty closet, and found a few spices, flour and a couple cans of corn. There were a few other items that were in no way going to help the problem. I believe I'm a moderately good cook, but this would be a challenge. My back east heritage immediately brought to mind, corn fritters. They are delicious, but I had no eggs. No syrup or confectioners sugar to top them either. My husband and I talked. He reminded me of another ethnic dish called "Corn Pie". He never had made it, but he had eaten it before. I never ate it or made it. After questioning him awhile, I was told it was a pie crust with corn, onion, hard cooked eggs and potatoes inside. He said it was great with lots of bread and butter. Well, we did have bread and butter. However, I informed him, we had no potatoes. There was not an onion in the house, not even a sprouted one we could save. Eggs were gone at the last huge breakfast we prepared. I did have flour and a bit of shortening and corn. I had nothing to lose. So I decided to attempt to make it.

I put it together, I added a few seasonings and prayed for a miracle. I actually made a very large one, so I hoped it was edible. The little ones were excited when they heard me say pie. The poor dears had no idea of what it was going to be. All day long, they kept asking if we could eat pie yet. It didn't dawn on me what they were expecting.

They were a really good bunch. They were very understanding. They knew it was a temporary condition; they had never starved at our house. Nevertheless, I apologized for the poor meal.

We sat down at our 12 ft. picnic table, which served as our dining room table. It was quite a motley crew that gathered daily at that table. Wide-eyed, innocent children. Man-boys, too big to be kids, not yet adults. Long hair and rough looks, with rougher pasts. All of them trying to get well together.

I brought out the pie. The guys exchanged looks of doubt. It was much less than they were used to sharing. It looked different. They were not sure this was going to actually be edible. The tiny ones got huge smiles on their faces. "Pie," they squealed in unison.

We said grace, thankful there was food of any kind. We cut the pie and served the little ones first as was the custom. The babies were the first to dig in, the others watched them, maybe for signs of poisoning, I don't know. Then it happened, the expression on their little faces was priceless. It was pure and simple disappointment. Their little faces dropped when the anticipated sweetness was not delivered. It wasn't quite a face that said, "Yuck," but it did ask," What is this?" Suddenly, everyone burst out laughing. We all started to eat and told each other, it really wasn't that bad.

Our former foster kids and natural kids talk about this often. Our kids said it wasn't the best meal I ever made, but the one they remember most.

That day, we were really a family, more connected than most birth families. My kids learned a lesson in survival. They learned it is possible to "make do".

It was the best thing that could have happened to us all. We were closer than before, with a new respect for each other and each other's problems.

Credits: Jo Ann Wentzel

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