Polenta. Or Was It Pullend?

Polenta was the staple of the southern Italians’ diet long before they immigrated to America. It was all they had; a food that was lacking calories and vitamins, eaten just to fill, the hunger returning quickly after the meal.

Polenta before the 'gravy'

Pullend before the ‘gravy’ was added

When my grandparents came to America from Pollutri, they continued to eat polenta, now not as frequent, perhaps once a week.
I remember grandmother ladling the porridge (it reminded me of the Three Bears) on a slab of wood, one used to knead the dough for pasta.
Nevertheless, once it was slabbed, my grandmother pushed a crater into the small mound and spooned in the gravy, a red steaming sauce with its meat base.

To me, the polenta was unappealing, dry, pasty and tasteless. The gravy I loved, especially when it floated the meatballs.
“Ed-a-wood, try the pullend”… that’s what they called it… pullend. Their dialect.
I just could not unless I had a pile of gravy along with the polenta on my spoon.
“I don’t like it, Grandma.”
“Mah, why? Itsa gooda for you.”
“Nope, I can’t.”
“Anna, this kidd-a no eat. Howsee gonna grow?’

My mother gave up. She knew I would never try it.
Today, they get $14 for a dish in a restaurant. I love it. Could it be that they use the ricotta as filler?
Or could it be that it always was good, especially for those peasant southern Italians who had little else.

© 2015

By | 2017-07-10T16:10:10+00:00 November 9th, 2015|Food|16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. John Walsh November 9, 2015 at 3:09 pm - Reply

    Nice piece, Ed. Made me think of my mom, so thanks. She loved polenta!

    • Ed November 9, 2015 at 4:40 pm - Reply

      Thanks, John. Wishing I had a dish now and that my Mom made it!

  2. Bob Tyzbir November 9, 2015 at 3:17 pm - Reply

    Hey Ed:
    I posted your blog on my face book page and told everyone how I ate polenta every Friday night because I didn’t like fish!

    • Ed November 9, 2015 at 4:39 pm - Reply

      Did you let them know that the only other dish you ate for years and years was Pasta?

  3. Vin DiBiasio November 9, 2015 at 3:25 pm - Reply

    Mangia mangia si fai gruss!!

    • Ed November 9, 2015 at 4:44 pm - Reply

      Well now you have me with a new word, gruss, Vin. I presume it means something like ‘to gain weight”
      Thanks for sharing.
      Am I correct?

  4. Anthony Barnello November 9, 2015 at 5:07 pm - Reply

    It was certainly NOT polenta when I was growing up; I found out it was polenta when I started to study the Italian language in college. Contrary to what you said Ed, I loved “pullend” and used to ask my mother to make it on a regular basis. Even now I order it whenever it is available on the menu in Italian restaurants. My mother made it with sausage and thick tomato sauce (gravy to some. Wish I had some today because it is cold outside and polenta is definitely comfort food!

    • Ed November 9, 2015 at 5:11 pm - Reply

      It is amazing how are tastes change, Anthony, and mine certainly has. Would that I was having that polenta dish that you described right now! Comfort indeed.

  5. June champagne November 9, 2015 at 6:48 pm - Reply

    Yes, very well I remember the polenta, it had to be stirred continuously, otherwise it would be lumpy. It was a family affair, everyone had their turn “stirring the polenta” I
    She served it with sausage. My grandmother cut it with string, she had a special ball of string, in a paper bag, only to be used for “cutting the polenta”! One day my grandfather needed string to tie up the string beans, he used the “string”. When grandma saw that he used it , everyone knew it. She was wailing in italian about the “string”. Everyone who knew grandma, knew you don’t use the “polenta string” for anything but polenta! As a child I didn’t eat polenta only the sausage and gravy with italian bread , but now I search it out in italian restaurants. It is much creamier than I remember. And yes, it’s around $14.

    • Ed November 9, 2015 at 7:02 pm - Reply

      You know, June, you could write some of this stuff. You helped me remember the stirring to avoid the lumps and the string. Ahhh yes, the string. My fondest memory of it was to cut it off the bracciole.

  6. Joe Giusto November 9, 2015 at 6:58 pm - Reply

    I love polenta…One only needs to add things to it, simple ones such as parsley, then fry it.
    Nothing better.

    • Ed November 9, 2015 at 7:01 pm - Reply

      I never saw the fried polenta when I was a kid, Joe, but I see it a lot now. It’s getting better all the time.

  7. Anne Galloway Bowen November 9, 2015 at 10:26 pm - Reply

    I haven’t cooked polenta but had a very tasty serving once. In my kitchen right now you could find grits, yellow cornmeal and Johnny cake meal. Where would we be without corn?

    • Ed November 9, 2015 at 11:45 pm - Reply

      Not sure where we would be without corn, Ann.
      I am pleased that you experienced the polenta phenomenon. I’ll be down for the johnnycakes.

  8. Lou Lanni November 12, 2015 at 9:39 pm - Reply

    Thanks for your blog on Polenta. As I recall, my grandmother would prepare that dish whenever it snowed. She would layer the Polenta between tomato sauce, sausage pieces and grated cheeze. Delizioso !

    • Ed November 12, 2015 at 9:54 pm - Reply

      It sounds delicious. I cannot believe I did not like the dish when I was a kid. Thanks for your comment, Lou.

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