You can pretend you’re cooking polenta if it makes you feel better, or if your grandmother came from Italy–but in my family, and on my table, it’s plain old cornmeal mush.
The indigenous people taught my Pilgrim ancestors to make cornmeal and all its varieties when the Pilgrims first arrived from England. How those Italians got into the act, and fancied up a perfectly good old American dish, I’ll never know. After all, they didn’t even HAVE corn until it was shipped from America. (Some Internet research says the Italians made polenta out of other things, like ground garbanzo beans before corn came to their shores.)
Grandma Vera (And Great-Grandmas Hattie and Mary and Great-Great Grandmas….well you get the idea) made mush. And they made it for breakfast, served with syrup, not for dinner (which they called supper, anyhow). And not with cheese and tomato sauce and god knows what else piled on top of it.
That was back when people cooked breakfast instead of pouring it out of a box, or unwrapping a breakfast bar.
Cornmeal mush is such a fundamental, staple dish, that the cookbooks I have from the late 19th and early 20th century don’t carry it. Of course that could be because people, particularly CIvil War veterans, were sick and tired of subsisting on cornmeal mush during the war when food was scarce in many parts of the country. From the Pilgrims through the settling of the West, ground corn in many guises was the food you ate when you didn’t have anything else.
But I east fried cornmeal mush because I love it. (And it is still a cheap eat.) My great-greats probably only fried the leftovers, after serving mush in bowls for breakfast.
My staple, Joy of Cooking (1975) has a recipe for Cornmeal mush as well as one for polenta, by the next edition, cornmeal mush had been pushed aside by the trendier polenta.
Cooking cornmeal mush into a mush–a thick cereal to be served in a bowl with milk or cream and syrup or better yet molasses–is only tricky if you don’t stir often enough to prevent lumps. However, frying thick strips of chilled mush so they’re crispy on the outside and just a little soft on the inside can be a disaster. Slice it too thin, or use too little oil and it will stick to the skillet. Don’t get the oil hot enough, and the cornmeal mush will soak up the oil and become a soggy mess instead of a crispy delight.
Final word on the subject: use a cast-iron skillet. If you don’t, do not hold me responsible for your results. However, when you eat your mush is up to you. I have no objection to eating mush for brupper (that’s like brunch, only at the end of the day).