While few things make me happier than spending the holidays cooking with my family, few vegetables come to mind with less importance at the Plymouth thanksgiving than corn. Maize was ruler of the three sisters (beans, squash and corn) ruled North, Central and South Americas for many generations before the Pilgrims landed. Iroquois legend says that the three are inseparable sisters who only grow and thrive together. They were the first crops domesticated by ancient Mesoamerican societies and corn was the primary crop. There were ceremonies to mark planting and first harvest. Corn provided a natural bean pole for the beans to climb. Beans fixed the nitrogen on their roots to improve nutrient absorption and fertility and also stabilized the corn making them less vulnerable to the elements with a strong base of roots. Shallow roots of squash kept weeds down and the mound moisturized by the ground shade. Nixtimalization or the process of soaking and cooking maize in limewater and hulling into hominy and ground into maize was how the Americas thrived. A traditional fest would have centered on these three sisters. Nowadays our sisters have a different story to tell. And while corn production in the United States is roughly 39 million HA, we are the first in the world in corn production, and 20% of our annual yield is export. Our American corn is 92% genetically modified, and is primarily used as animal feed. Estimates of 75% of processed foods on supermarket shelves from sodas to soup, crackers to condiments are contaminated with genetically engineered ingredients. By removing genetic material from one organism and blasting it into the cut leaves of a damaged young plant and inserting it, the biotech industry has created an astounding number of organisms that are not produced by nature and have never been seen on our plates. Monsanto’s “Bt corn” is equipped with a gene from the soil bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which produces Bt toxin—a pesticide that breaks open the stomach of certain insects and kills them. It also continues at rapid multiplication of the gene inserted in a bacterial host prior to insertion into the crop plant. So if it’s fed to the cow that becomes your hamburger, popcorn at the movie theater or the high fructose corn syrup in your gummi bears it is designed to continue to produce this genetic code and insert itself into it’s host. Now you can drive from Pennsylvania to Oregon and see corn fields, in mega farming operations, it is our monocrop, it’s lost it’s sisters and our nutrition and health as a nation is failing. I have added several links at the bottom for further reading on corn in Americas, as much as it’s a fight for seed freedom it’s a fight for our health as a nation. https://youtu.be/wTraZwHDHXk is a fascinating video of basic gene insertion into plants via a agrobacterium using soybeans and a gene gun. Most of the corn in the US is aligned to feed cars and animals instead of feeding people, yet you’ll find it in almost every food you can purchase. The only way to avoid Bt corn in your food is to purchase Organic AND Non-GMO food, if you can only do one make it Organic, and if you can do both you are ensuring much better nutrition and health. Because life without cornbread would be a sad un-American life, yet we don’t want to be known for our monocrop compared to our lost Three Sisters, so I urge you all to grow your own three sisters garden, start avoiding foods that no longer serve our bodies and reclaim our health of our soil, air and water. Let’s bring our sisters back to the harvest.
Cornbread has been a staple Thanksgiving dish from coast to coast, and while I mostly prepare my birds deep-fried I’m always looking for good stuffing recipes. Usually this boils down to myself cooking one Turkey and my father stuffing one that hasn’t been brined. This variation on Tom Douglas’s classic is a play of our Pacific NW flavors and good Southern cooking.
Makes 6 to 8 servings: Cornbread: ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus a little extra for buttering pan, Makes 6 to 8 servings
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus a little extra for buttering pan
1 cup all-purpose flour, spelt, organic
¾ cup medium-ground organic yellow cornmeal
½ cup grated Beecher’s No Woman Cheese (or other spicy jack)
1 teaspoon baking powder (non-aluminum)
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, organic
1 cup ½ & ½, organic
3 tablespoons honey
Pudding: (It’s Puddin’ Time)
1 tablespoon butter plus a little more for buttering pan
1 cup thinly sliced onions
¾ cup grated Beecher’s No Woman Cheese (or other spicy jack)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
¼ teaspoon sage, ground
½ teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
2 ¼ cups whipping cream or half-and-half
4 large eggs
¾ to 1 teaspoon Himalayan salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
To prepare the cornbread: Heat oven to 425 degrees. Melt ¼ cup butter and set aside to cool slightly. Butter an 8-inch square pan with a little softened butter and set aside.
Combine the flour, cornmeal, pepper jack cheese, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. In a second bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and honey. Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring just until combined. Add the melted butter and stir into the mixture. Pour into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 20 minutes. When cool enough to handle, cut into 1-inch cubes.
To prepare the pudding: Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Put the cornbread cubes in a buttered 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
4. Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a sauté pan over low heat and cook the onions very slowly until soft and golden brown, at least 20 minutes; stir occasionally. Remove from the heat. Scatter the onions, cheese and herbs over the cornbread. Whisk together the cream, eggs, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl and pour over the cornbread cubes. Let sit for 10 minutes so the cornbread absorbs some of the custard. Bake until set and golden, about 40 minutes. Serve hot.
Note: You can make the cornbread and store it in the freezer, covered tightly in plastic wrap, for a few weeks until you are ready to make the pudding. The onions can be caramelized a day ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator. The pudding can be baked a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator, covered. Before serving, reheat the pudding, covered with aluminum foil, in a preheated 375-degree oven until warmed through, 35 to 40 minutes.
Enjoy with a Fezziwig Ale or Alaskan Winter Ale