A bit of history:
Corn bread is so versatile. Long a staple in New England families, it was often made several times a week from corn grown locally, even at home. It was sustaining and quick to make.
In days gone by, the earliest settlers learned to make a simple version of corn bread from the Native Americans. Basically, it was a matter of mixing up a bit of stone ground corn with water, often right in one’s hand, then spreading it onto a hot rock surrounding a fire pit. If that rock could have a bit of grease on it first, bear fat or otherwise, it made the bread easier to peel off when cooked. These breads, which resembled tortillas, were often made in batches and would last for days, as a campfire was a luxury not always available on the trail. When obtainable, bits of meat or wild fruits could be added directly to this trail food before cooking or rolled up inside it.
As time went on and cooking moved inside, the versions of cornbread continued to develop. A porridge consisting of cornmeal and water, with a rough ratio of 1 to 6, was often left to cook for hours on an iron bracket or crane that held a pot above a fireplace fire. This was referred to as Hasty Pudding (from the British), not to be confused with Corn Pudding. This dish is also referred to as Corn Meal Mush, as well as many other regional names. It has a consistency similar to modern-day cream of wheat, with a mild nutty corn flavor. This porridge would be eaten plain, or with a bit of honey or maple syrup. Milk or cream might be added as well.
Historically, the porridge leftovers would remain in the pan to cool and firm up. Then it could be cut into sections and fried in an iron skillet, with lard or other fat, the next day. It would be cooked until golden, flipped and the process repeated, until it was a bit crisp all around. The resulting pan ‘cakes’ were served with molasses or syrup as a dessert or with gravy as a main dish and often referred to simply as fried corn meal mush.
Johnny Cake is a term that seems to apply equally to the traditional corn bread we are most familiar with and a corn meal based flapjack-type dish.
Indian Pudding is a dessert that builds on the Hasty Pudding recipe.
Cornbread is a wonderful accompaniment to many dishes, including baked beans, salads, chowders and soups. When I was growing up, we never had pea soup without Johnny Cake.
White corn meal can be used in any of these recipes and my first choice is always stone-ground corn meal, white or yellow.
I’ve found that by experimenting over the years and altering the basic recipe a bit, I could create many versions and enjoy this traditional bread a lot more often!
Corn bread can be made in a square baking pan but also adapts well to muffin pans and cast iron molds. Many old-time recipes recommend baking it in a well-greased cast iron skillet placed in the oven.
Have some fun with corn bread this winter!
Traditional Recipe for Corn Bread
1 cup stone ground corn meal
1 cup unbleached white flour
¼ cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
½ tsp sea salt
¼ cup melted butter
1 cup milk
1 large or 2 small or medium eggs
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees
Combine all dry ingredients
Mix remaining ingredients in a small bowl and add to dry ingredients, combine until just mixed.
Bake in well-greased pan or molds or muffin pans filled 2/3 full.
Bake for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on pan size, or until golden brown on top.
Variations I have developed and enjoy
To the above recipe, once the batter is mixed:
Add one cup of whole or creamed corn
Add one cup of flaked, sweetened coconut to the batter and reduce the sugar by 1 tsp.
Add one cup of applesauce and reduce the milk by ¼ cup
Substitute brown sugar or maple sugar, for white sugar
Add ½ cup maple syrup or honey or molasses and eliminate the white sugar
Add one cup of apples diced
Add ½ cup of raisins, dried cranberries or other dried fruit
Add 1 cup of diced onions, sautéed and ½ cup crumbled cooked bacon
Add 1 cup of whole berry cranberry sauce and ½ cup pecan pieces; reduce milk by ¼ cup
Add 1 cup chunky salsa and ½ cup sharp cheddar cheese
Add 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
Add 1 cup grated carrots
Send me your ideas !