NaLoFooMo Recipe 1: cornbread and variants

Ok, so I didn’t do much inventing or adapting on this recipe. It’s just the Joy of Cooking’s standard cornbread recipe, but I did swap out a few ingredients to make it local. I also had several revelations during the process, mostly regarding how amazingly few adjustments I had to make to get this to be a local dish.

First, the recipe:

In a bowl, stir together:

  • 3/4 c. flour (it called for white, but I used the local soft wheat flour I can get)
  • 2 1/2 tsp. baking soda (no idea where this comes from…)
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/4 c. cornmeal
  • 2-3 Tbl. sugar

Beat one egg, and add to it 1 c. milk and 2 Tbl. melted butter or drippings. Mix all together until just moistened. A note on milk: there’s tons of local milk around here – in fact, milk is one of the most consistently local products in a grocery store, especially if you buy the store brand. Eden brand soy milk is also local to me, so in this case, I actually used soymilk because dairy and I don’t get along so well.

Ok, so now you’ve got batter. Here’s where my real experimentation started. I did make a standard pan of cornbread – heat cast iron skillet in oven, add butter until melted, pour in batter and bake – but I also played around with corn cakes. I tried two different variations, one with the same batter as the cornbread, and one with a slightly thinner batter.

First, in a large skillet, I melted some bacon drippings that I’d saved (and actually covered and refrigerated!) last time we made bacon. I was having these dreams of slightly smoky, salty corn cakes, and telling you all that our grandmothers were right and the secret of tastiness is to cook everything in that nigh-illicit cholesterol-laden substance, bacon fat.

I found that the bacon drippings got very smoky, very quickly (no surprise) and while they rendered (har) a deliciously crispy corn cake, that was all texture, not flavor. Still, both the thin and the thick cakes came out nicely. The thin ones were crispier and more like pancakes. The thicker ones were heartier and really feel like stick-to-the-ribs food. Both were good straight from the pan, and would make any fan of whole-grain pancakes happy for breakfast.

But what about dinner? My hope with the cornbread was to find a local starch to serve as the ballast of a meal. Mrs. Ernst told me that her soft whole wheat flour probably wouldn’t make a light, crusty loaf of bread, but I was thinking cornbread would be perfect because it doesn’t need the gluten (protein) to make that elastic dough and chewy crust.

With dinner in mind, I think next time I’d leave the sugar out completely. Don’t true Southerners hate us Yankees for ruining cornbread with sugar, anyway? Ok, so now I’ve got cornbread. Serve it alongside chili (an easy local meal, if you live within range of Eden Organics’s tomatoes and beans) or a pot of white beans simmered with sage (very easy to grow in almost any climate). But what about something different? How about…

  • Corn cakes, as above, topped with bacon, lettuce, and tomato
  • Corn cakes with roasted peppers and cheese
  • Corn cakes with a slice of ham and sauerkraut

So, the revelations:
Most people would have a hard time making this locally because flour, cornmeal, and sugar are difficult or impossible to find locally. I am really damn lucky to live where I do. I can get wheat and corn flour at the farmers’ market every Saturday from May until Christmas, and the farm that produces it is literally right around the corner from my house.

Hmm, I wonder if I can figure out where some store-brand flour comes from? Does anyone have any good reference sources for facts like “80% of the table salt in the US comes from Hutchinson, Kansas”?

Your takeaways from this recipe: If you live in the Midwest, check out Eden Organics. They might not be within 100 miles of you, but they’re more local than Muir Glen or anything else from California. Also, any beet sugar from the Michigan Sugar Company (which is most of the beet sugar you find in stores in this part of the world) is grown in the “thumb” area of Michigan by a cooperative of small family farms. It’s not organic, but it also isn’t harvested on sugar plantations abroad under dubious working conditions.

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3 Comments

  1. Ken said,

    November 5, 2007 at 1:58 pm

    I wonder how locally-grown I can get some cornmeal. There’s corn around here, but I don’t know where it might be milled locally.

    I also wonder how well honey would do instead of sugar. I have local honey, but I’ve not looked for local sweet-granules.

    Also, re: baking soda: I don’t know where it used to come from (it was used in Sumer 4 or 5 thousand years ago), but these days baking soda is an industrial product. I imagine that it’s a pretty non-local product in most cases — more chemical than food, except then we eat it 😉

  2. espringf said,

    November 6, 2007 at 12:27 pm

    Ken-

    The same could be said of salt, and it turns out it’s actually mined in several locations in the US. Hmm…add “Where does baking soda come from?” to the list of queries this month!

    E,

  3. December 7, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    […] Corn cake sandwiches […]


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