Yasmine Young is the historian of her family. As such, she has bought and is in the long process of restoring her family’s big house in Ashburton, built in the 1920s. She’s traced her family’s history back eight generations, including 352 ancestors who came to Baltimore from Virginia and the Eastern Shore.
She’s also keeping alive traditions passed down throughout the years. One is Manning’s Hominy at the breakfast table. A corn product first produced in a Canton backyard and one of the last canned goods to leave Baltimore, Manning’s has a more than 100-year legacy in area kitchens. Think of it like Charm City’s answer to grits.
A bowl of hominy, mixed with eggs and cooked with butter is “definitely comfort food,” said the 38-year-old, who owns a hair salon. “It just makes you feel warm and safe.” When she cooks and eats it, she thinks of her grandmother and great-grandparents, her mother’s sisters and brothers, of the tables they gathered around.
Edwina King, 79, can relate. She recalls her mother cooking Manning’s Hominy with condensed milk, butter, salt and pepper over a double boiler to loosen up the congealed bits. King’s family loved to cook — her father was a chef at the Shirley Hotel downtown.
The dish graced every holiday table along with sauerkraut with salted pig tail, the family’s take on another Baltimore favorite. There were also nibbles like homemade pickled watermelon rinds, a tradition that grew out of the family’s roots in Virginia. Manning’s, King said, is “a must-have for Christmas.”
I spoke with both Young and King after coming across a can of Manning’s while grocery shopping at Graul’s Market. I’d never heard of it, but I was intrigued by the retro-looking label. The back of the label said it was first canned in 1904, in the Baltimore kitchen of Margaret Manning, and then sold door-to-door.
I wondered who in Baltimore was still eating this locally born dish, and posted a question about it on a Facebook group called Baltimore Past and Present Photos, which has nearly 80,000 members. My post generated hundreds of comments, with people from many different backgrounds sharing memories of a favorite food — along with recipes. A common hominy preparation is cooked in bacon, scrapple or sausage grease and served with eggs for breakfast.
While many said my post had brought back memories, others have long forgotten about this local specialty. Young recently polled customers at her salon about whether they were familiar with Manning’s and says, “Most people don’t know about it.”
In some regards, Manning’s Hominy is a quintessentially Baltimore food. It uses a native ingredient, maize, with a preparation influenced by immigrants and pioneered during the industrial age.
Hominy goes back thousands and thousands of years. That’s when people living in what’s now Central America developed the process of nixtamalization to break down corn. Nixtamalization, which comes from the Aztec language, involves taking dried-out corn and boiling it with wood ashes or lye. That makes its inedible outer husks easier to remove and transforms the niacin of the corn into a form that’s digestible.
However, when Europeans arrived to the Americas, they used alternate, less healthful methods for turning corn into an edible form. “They didn’t realize they were supposed to add that lye,” said the Annapolis historian Joyce White, who has researched hominy extensively.
A staple of the diet of enslaved people, hominy was by the 1800s a beloved Maryland food, one that crossed socioeconomic, class and race lines, said White. High-end restaurants featured hominy croquettes. On a 1914 menu from Mt. Vernon’s Maryland Club, is a “hominy in chafing dish” below Romanoff caviar and Chesapeake terrapin, another forgotten local specialty.
In 1904, a German immigrant living in Baltimore decided to start steaming hominy in her own backyard at 2425 Foster Ave. and selling it door to door. Margaret Manning, White says, was “instrumental in developing a canned hominy product.” Still, she points out that her version was actually less nutritious than traditional nixtamalization.
Baltimore’s Manning family continued to run their hominy canning operation in Canton until 1995. By then, it was the last cannery still operating in the city, the last vestige of a once-booming canning industry. That year, it was sold to Lake Packing Companies, which makes it in Virginia today along with Tidewater Herring Roe.
According to an email from S. Lake Cowart, Jr., president of Lake Packing Companies, Manning’s will be around “as long as there is a viable market.”
Young, who grew up eating Manning’s Hominy, isn’t holding her breath. “Do I think Manning’s Hominy will be around in the next 20 years?” she asked herself. “Probably not.” But she’ll stock up.
To fully appreciate the legacy of Manning’s Hominy — and why it stirred up such fond memories among Baltimoreans — I had to try it.
Since so many commenters had said they cooked it in bacon grease, I decided to fry up some bacon strips in a cast-iron skillet. After they were nice and crispy, I poured out my can of Manning’s into the skillet. Then again, “poured” isn’t exactly the verb to use. Straight from the can, Manning’s Hominy is basically a solid hunk of white, congealed hominy, a discovery that I found slightly alarming at first.
The reason for this texture, says White, is the way Margaret Manning steamed the kernels. “That’s why it’s wet and congealed,” White said. “That’s not how normal hominy is.”
I used a spoon to break my hunk of Manning’s Hominy down into pieces, adding fresh ground pepper as many people on Facebook said they had seasoned it. Following Young’s suggestion, I mixed in some beaten eggs. I then added in the crumbled bits of bacon and topped it off with a healthy pour of King Golden Syrup, another Baltimore original.
The result was unexpectedly delicious — salty, sweet and incredibly filling. (Though I do wonder if this just proves the theory that bacon makes everything better). The flavor reminded me a bit of corn grits, while the pearl-like texture was denser and heftier. After a bowl of Manning’s Hominy for breakfast, I didn’t need to eat for the rest of the day.
Do you have a favorite family recipe for Manning’s Hominy or another local dish? White, together with the Maryland State Archives, has launched Great Maryland Recipe Hunt, an open call for favorite local recipes to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Maryland’s Way, The Hammond-Harwood House Cook Book. You can submit your entries online.