Evolution of cornbread

in Culinary Traditions & Food Ways by

Cornbread is a staple in the US cuisine. The journey of it becoming an important dish transports cornbread between Africans, Natives and colonies of the Americas.

In the past, harvests and geography determined holiday food traditions.

In the United States, three major factors decided your food consumption: location, the type of food grown and the animals raised. However, cornbread or meals made from corn meal were commonly eaten throughout homes in the U.S.

Nowadays, cornbread is prepared in a variety of ways. From sweet, cake-like versions to a coarse renditions with a savory taste, cornbread embeds itself into the history of the country.

But, I must emphasize that cornbread, traditionally was not sweet, and had very little salt, if any. Back then, spices were premium luxuries that enslaved Africans did not have, nor once freed, rarely could afford.

Nonetheless, today’s vast culinary industry flips cornbread in many ways.

Evolution of Cornbread

During Colonial America, corn became an essential ration. As soon as colonists settled (or stole) a plot of land, the planting of corn was almost immediate.

Pumpkin, beans, sorghum and millet were crops indigenous to the area and found in Africa. Although, millet, a more digestible grain could easily switch out corn, settlers preferred corn’s ease of growing even in distressed soil. As a result, corn quickly became a cash crop.

Photo credit: Roderico Y Diaz

Before the Civil War, travelers detailed meals in personal diaries, journals and travel logs. In their journeys in the wilderness of the South, they spoke of a fried Indian corn cake as the regular staple in food. Rather than European-styled breads, Natives prepared a fried cornmeal mixed with water—a precursor to Southern hoecakes and probably the tortilla.

On a side note, Dr. Joseph Holloway says that traditional grits comes from Africa. Originally, grits were kernels of dried Indian corn hulls grounded and cooked in water. This food is a direct descendant of Nigerian ẹbà, a dried, grated cassava cooked in hot water and stirred with a spoon and often eaten for breakfast.

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