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Take a bite of edible history in an easy, mouthwatering cornbread using rare Native American Hopi Blue Corn and Whole Pima Corn. With a crispy, perfect outside and delicate inside speckled with chewy, slightly smoky whole pima corn (also known as Chicos) you'll think you've died and gone to corn heaven.

Using two traditional ingredients I'm bringing together past and present, east and west, black, brown and white in one dish that (I hope) celebrates the contributions all of the cultures that have made an impact on what I think should be our national dish, cornbread.

Before you scroll down for the recipe take a few minutes to learn about the history and the cultures celebrated in this recipe which fuses together our Native American, African and Colonial roots. You don't get more American than this. 

THE AMAZING HISTORY OF CORNBREAD

Cornbread has been adapted by every cook and culture that has touched it from Native Americans that invented it to enslaved people who made it into what we know today. Native Americans were making cornbread for thousands of years before European settlers came to our country. How it was prepared varied by region and tribe. The Hopi people boiled it into something we would consider a dumpling and they made small, flat pancake style cakes that are the culinary ancestor to our modern cornbread. Other tribes added fats, berries and nuts.

European colonists combined it with flour and added eggs and sometimes yeast to make it lighter and more like the bread they were accustomed to. Along the North Eastern seaboard Johnnycakes were a favorite. What we largely think of as cornbread though is largely owed to enslaved people in the south who adapted dishes like "kusha" from West Africa to use this new world grain.

In the south the debate of sugar or no sugar in cornbread is a heated one that tend to fall along race lines. You'll find many white southern cooks that will swear cornbread containing sugar is cake not cornbread. It turns out though that no-one added sweetener to cornbread prior to the early 1900s. Sugar was expensive and cornbread is a humble dish. Southern cornbread included lard or bacon fat and no sugar or honey. Most people served it with plenty of sorghum syrup or honey to drizzle on top and didn't find the need to sweeten the bread itself. Around 1910 tough we start to see black cookbook recipes call for sugar. Food historians believe this is due to changes in cornmeal from industrialized farming and milling.  The white south though continued using more expensive cornmeal and kept making it without sugar beginning the great debate over what should be considered true southern cornbread. 

This recipe uses the original Native American cornmeal, adds 19th century ingredients for a lighter consistency, traditional southwestern chicos and uses sugar and butter to honor the delectable contributions of black cooks. 

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup  stoneground Hopi blue cornmeal
  • ⅔ cup plus
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon  salt
  • 1 egg and 1 egg white, beaten
  • 1 cup plus
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • ¼ cup clarified butter or ghee (melted but not hot)
  • ½ cup pima whole corn (soaked in water overnight)
  • Butter to grease the skillet
  • Honey butter, for serving
  • Sea Salt for serving

Directions:

  1. Using a cast iron skillet is a must for this recipe. By flipping the cake part way through the cooking process you end up with that oh so important crispy top and bottom. 
  2. Heat the oven to 450 degrees.
  3. Pour the corn and water into a small pan and cook the pima corn on medium heat until tender but still toothy.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
  5. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, then fold in the clarified butter.
  6. Add most of the corn to the batter, reserving a couple tablespoons of corn to sprinkle on top.
  7. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add a small pat of butter to the pan, swirling the pan until the butter is melted and bubbly. Pour in the batter, spreading the batter so it reaches the edges of the pan.
  8. After the edges have started to turn brown and bubble a bit (about 2 minutes) move the skillet into the heated oven. 
  9. Bake until it is mostly set but still jiggles slightly in the center. Remove from oven and carefully flip the cornbread with a long spatula so that the browned bottom is now on the top. 
  10. Cook on the stovetop on medium heat another 2-3 minutes until it is cooked through.
  11. Server with honey butter and sprinkle with additional pima corn and sea salt.

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