This is an actual native American original ingredient. And these are the remains of an archaic native American corn grinder, which came from just a few miles downriver from my house.
Corn, another one of those invaders from Mexico, has been ground into meal around here for awhile. It’s a damn good thing there were no ICE corn police in place way back when, or there would be no cornbread, corn muffins, hush puppies, hoe cakes, cornbread dressing, or cornhole tosses. Which brings me to my favorite cornmeal story.
Back in the 1970’s, or so the story goes, there was a locally famous meat and three restaurant in Tarrant City, Alabama. A meat and three serves a protein and three vegetables/side dishes, for all the foreigners reading this. The restaurant happened to be across Alabama Route 79 from a gigantic limestone quarry, and you could eat there, and enjoy dynamite blasts, all at the same time.
An elderly friend of mine swears this is true. He went to lunch there one day, and there was a tarp over the roof, and a giant hole in the ceiling. Despite that, lunch service went on as usual.
He sat down at his usual table, and ordered fried chicken livers, fried okra, blackeyed peas, and bread pudding. After his favorite waitress took the order, he asked why there was a hole in the roof and the ceiling.
“Way-l,” she said, “They uzed too much dynymite over at the kwarry. A bold-er shot all the wayz across tha rode. Hit came thru the roof and lit in the sweet rolls.” This was across one of the busiest roads in the state.
“So what are you going to do?” he said.
“Serve corn muffins instead,” was her answer.
Corn muffins. It’s what’s for lunch.
All cornmeal needs to be stored properly, as it has a good deal of fat and protein that will go rancid. Refrigerate in a zip-lock bag for short term storage, though a freezer is a better place for it in the long run.
Cornmeal comes in various colors, but yellow is the most common. The main difference is in the grind–how it was ground, and by what. Commercial cornmeals are often ground at a high heat level, which is not so good for the flavor. Traditionalists use stone ground meal, though not necessarily ground in one of those grinders in the above picture. Stone ground is normally whole grain, so it really really needs refrigeration.
This is the rub, right here. There’s coarse, medium, and fine, depending on the source. Every miller has a different label, and many don’t bother with the distinction on grinds. Look for one that does. I’m going to use the example of Coosa Valley Milling, in Wilsonville, Alabama. For those of you who don’t know your geography, that’s only a few miles from Harpersville. Alright, it’s just south of Birmingham.
Unlike many people, this is my go to grind. Most people add wheat flour to their cornbread, but not me. This powder fine grind is easily the best I’ve ever seen. It’s made by a great family company as well.
This one is the work horse grind, with something of the consistency of sawdust. That’s why I put it on my workbench. (Clever, eh?) Great for Hush Puppies and other crunchy things. It’s usually cut with flour when used to make cornbread.
A cornbread and a cornbread dressing recipe here.
1 cup fine McEwen cornmeal
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Mix this up and put in a roasting hot, oiled cast iron skillet, into a 400 degree oven. The quality of the cornmeal is the key here. Double the recipe for a family meal.
Bama Cornbread Dressing
One double recipe of Bama Cornbread, crumbled (see above)
2 cups croutons
2 cups cooked onions and celery
Handful of rehydrated dried Porcini mushrooms, cooked in butter, chopped
1/2 stick of melted butter
Chicken stock (at least one cup)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Sage, sage, and more sage
Cook at 350 degrees. This is a seat of the pants recipe. I like lots and lots of sage and mushrooms. Recycle into turkey or chicken and dressing after the first meal.
Here are the testimonials about McEwen products, from famous chefs across the country. You can read about the awards they have won. Their eggs are fantastic as well, but you’ll have to drive to Wilsonville for those.