Tag Archives: corn bread

A SHORT HISTORY OF CORN

A couple of years ago, my two daughters and I started a book about corn (maize) to include recipes for a wide range of corn-based breads from around the world. The project bogged down when I started writing a blog, but we plan to revive our effort. Here is a short excerpt from the introduction. It may be more than you want to know about corn (maize), but I hope that you will find it interesting.

Nearly every American  school child knows that when the Europeans first came to the New World, they found a virtual cornucopia of foods which they had never seen or tasted before.  The explorers took back to their homeland many foods that soon became imbedded in cuisines in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Of these edibles, eight of the current 26 top crops by tonnage have become essential to many diets, and include maize (called corn in the United States and other English-speaking countries), potatoes, tomatoes, chiles, peanuts, manioc, chocolate and vanilla, and sweet potatoes. Other important New World contributions to the global diet included beans, squash, turkeys, pineapple, and avocado, along with numerous herbs, fruits, and nuts.  Of these foods, undoubtedly corn has become the most important for providing nutrition and calories throughout the world and in all socio-economic situations.  To support this contention, consider that corn (or maize) is grown on all of the inhabited continents, China grows more corn than any other country, and corn-based dishes are served in China, India, Africa, England, France, Italy, and all of the countries of Central and South America. Refined corn is used for cooking oil, sugar substitute, and food additives. Corn serves as a major food source for animals raised a sources of meat. It is an integral and essential part of nearly every human’s diet.

History of cultivation

Maize (corn) was domesticated nearly 9,000 years ago by people living in the region of what is now the Mexican states of Michoacán, Guerrero, and Mexico. Like all modern food grains, it arose from a wild grass – in this case a large grass, Balsas teosinte, that even to this day grows in the Central Balsas River Valley. 

Balsas teosinteAlthough no one knows exactly how or how long the process of domestication developed, clever modern breeding studies have produced hybrids of teosinte and maize that give us an idea of what some of the grains may have looked like along the way.

teosinte and maize cobsIt is clear that both the Aztecs and Mayas consumed domesticated maize, and archeological records document that domestic corn spread to Panama by 7,600 years ago and to Uruguay by 4,600 years ago. Later, domesticated corn spread throughout both North and South America so that it was an important part of the diet of the native peoples throughout the New World when the Europeans arrived. The European explorers took back seed grain, and the cultivation of corn spread quickly throughout Europe and then into Africa and Asia. This rapid acceptance occurred  largely because of ease of cultivation, wide range of favorable growing conditions, and usefulness as a basic foodstuff. Now virtually every culture in the world depends upon corn and has unique and traditional dishes based upon the grain.

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WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE? SOME SAY TURKEY, I SAY DRESSING

Thanksgiving for nearly every American family is a special holiday where grandparents, parents, children and often more distant relatives and friends gather around a bounteous table to share fellowship and a delicious traditional meal. The meal has become almost ritual, and each family table is filled with particular foods that absolutely must be there. There is usually the roasted turkey, although in recent years more and more families are substituting roast beef, ham or some other protein. Then there are mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes with miniature marshmallows on top, dressing or stuffing as the case may be, gravy, cranberry relish, and green bean casserole made with canned mushroom soup and canned fried onion rings.  All of this is followed with both pumpkin and pecan pie with lots of whipped cream. (How can one possibly choose – so of course you need “a little sliver” of both!)

One of our family traditions is creamed onions. No one eats them, but the whole family complains if the onions are not on the table.  What nobody complains about is the bread dressing. The recipe came from Susan’s aunt who used to visit the family around Thanksgiving-time and always brought good food and new recipes from Delaware. Her dressing  has been an all-time hit so that we always double and usually triple the recipe to have plenty to eat with leftover turkey the next day. I suspect that she got her recipe out of a newspaper or magazine, because I have seen a lot of similar though not identical recipes since then. Still, this is a family heirloom which has to be made exactly the same every year.

Our family Thanksgivings have been both days of joy and family happiness (There are three birthdays in November) as well as days of sadness when one of the clan has been diagnosed with a serious illness or when a loved one is no longer at the table.  The day can also be one of discouragement for the cook or cooks who have been baking and preparing for days ahead. They often arise before dawn on the big day to put the finishing touches on the meal. Hours of hard work, sweat over a hot stove, and attention to details all seem to be for nothing when everyone sits down, only to have the meal disappear in a few minutes. That’s so folks won’t miss a minute of the football games on television or conversations around the fire. Mountains of dishes still have to be done by the kitchen crew.

Cubed French bread

Crumbled corn bread

This year we are doing things differently. We will be going to the dining room of a local hotel where they will serve a traditional turkey dinner ending with a huge buffet of desserts. When everyone has eaten his or her fill, the leftovers get packaged up to take home for the next day. No hot work in the kitchen and no dishes to clean up. Everyone seems happy including the usual cooks.

Ready to eat

Still, we will miss AA’s all-time best bread dressing. We might even make some beforehand to make sure we have it on Friday.

RECIPE

AA’s All-Time Best Bread Dressing

Ingredients

5 Cups cubed French bread

5 Cups crumbled cornbread

1/2 Cup butter

3/4 Cup minced onion

1/2 Cup minced green pepper

1/2 Cup minced celery

1 chicken bouillon cube

2/3 Cup hot water

1/2 pound bulk sausage

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning

2 eggs,beaten

3/4 Cup chopped pecans

  1. The day before, cut French bread into 1/2 inch cubes and spread them out to dry overnight.  In a separate pan, crumble the cornbread and spread it to dry overnight.
  2. In a large, heavy skillet, saute the onion, green pepper, and celery in the butter until tender.
  3. Place the bread cubes and crumbled corn bread in a very large container.  Dissolve the bouillon cube in the hot water and sprinkle over the dried breads. Stir in the sautéed vegetables.
  4. Using the same skillet, saute the sausage until browned and finely divided. Set aside.
  5. Add the salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, eggs, and pecans to the crumb mixture. Stir in the sausage and pan drippings and mix well.
  6. Bake in a large greased pan, covered, at 325 for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake for an additional 15 minutes or until the top is nicely browned.

Yield: Enough for 6 to 8 with no leftovers

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