If there is one ingredient that is truly American and influenced history, that ingredient would be corn. Corn is indigenous to North and South America and was a huge part of the Native Americans’ diet. It also saved the lives of numerous settlers in the early 1600s and by the 1700s was eaten every single day by the colonists.
Young or old, rich or poor, fat or thin, corn was a staple few could do without. It was easy to grow and make into different dishes, like American cornbread. One could dry it and eat parched corn or Johnnycakes while traveling or make it into a filling porridge. Corn could be eaten whole or ground into meal and was extremely versatile.
Week 9 of Dave Raymond’s American History course covers “Fathers of Independence: Adams, Franklin, Witherspoon, and Henry”. Ben Franklin was famous for having strong opinions on various subjects, which included the humble American vegetable corn.
Like most colonists, Franklin was a great lover of corn and said so in a letter to the Gazetteer, a newspaper in London. Franklin was writing in response to the Stamp Act, which was putting a heavy tax on tea among other things. Franklin wrote, “Vindex Patriaem a writer in your paper, comforts himself, and the India Company, with the fancy, that the Americans, should they resolve to drink no more tea, can by no means keep that Resolution, their Indian corn not affording ‘an agreeable, or easy digestible breakfast.’ Pray let me, an American, inform the gentlemen, who seems ignorant of the matter, that Indian corn, take it for all in all, is one of the most agreeable and wholesome grains in the world…and that johnny or hoecake, hot from the fire, is better than a Yorkshire muffin…”
While corn has lost much of its use in later years, Americans still enjoy popcorn with butter, tortilla chips, and the classic American cornbread. There were actually two types of cornbread made in America; the northern and southern versions. The southern version was made without flour and just used cornmeal as its base, while the northern version was made with a mixture of cornmeal and wheat flour. The recipe below is my mother’s but is probably closely accurate to what would have been made in the mid-to-late 1700s, as it calls for baking soda and not baking powder, which was not used until the 1850s.
- 1/2 c. butter
- 1/2 c. sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 c. buttermilk
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1 c. cornmeal
- 1 c. flour
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- Grease a 9” square pan and set aside. Preheat the oven to 275 F.
- Combine the buttermilk and baking soda in small bowl and set aside. In a large pot, melt butter. Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Quickly add and beat in eggs. Add buttermilk+baking soda mixture, then stir in cornmeal, flour, and salt.
- Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 18-22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.