America’s Food Secrets #5 – Monroe, Louisiana

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It’s time to dip once more into that pot of America’s Food Secrets and see what we can find. This is the fun project where we look for the streams of food influence brought to America by the early immigrants, and which may have changed and developed into the ways we eat today – Lots of fun!

Our vehicle of connection is to take a close look at a selected copy of a community fund-raiser cookbook -those little spiral bound “bookets” (I’m coining a word here, folks)- which of course contain some of our nation’s best family secret recipes. I have about 300-400 of these in my cookbook collection, and frankly, I enjoy just browsing through them on occasion – there’s some amazing stuff in them, along with a ton of absolute crap – but it’s all fun just the same.

The book I’ve chosen this time is “The Cotton Country Collection”, and I immediately must admit that I do so with just a bit of reluctance – Why? Well, because Cotton Country was done by The Junior League of Monroe, LA – and why is that bad? Only because in the world of community cookbooks, The Junior League is the 500 pound gorilla! Some may question my negativity here -because essentially I’m suggesting that they are too professional- but since my own stated criteria of choice is simply, “Does the book contain family recipe favorites, and, is it a community fund raiser?”, I must answer Yes, so, I’ll drop my reluctance.

Cotton Country is in fact one of my own most used cookbooks, primarily because it is so well done and carefully constructed, and because it contains some of our favorite recipes of all time. It is simply amazing! It has, since coming out in 1972, now sold well over 500, 000 copies, and is still available new. Cotton Country is a past winner of the McIlhenny (Tabasco) Hall of Fame award -the Oscars of the community cookbook world- and frankly, it’s quite unfair to compare this book with the mass of other community fundraiser cookbooks – even among other Junior League cookbooks, this one is in a league of its own (pun intended)!

OK, enough of that stuff – what recipe have I selected? Well, Monroe, Louisiana is certainly in the South, and one of the South’s key signature dishes is cornbread – so cornbread it is.

Southern Cornbread is an interesting study. Corn, of course, did not enter America from Europe or Africa, but was one of our native foods, introduced to the earliest settlers by the Native American Indians – and in fact, was so important immediately, that history suggests that without corn, those earliest of American immigrants may not have made it. So, corn played the role of an alternate choice food, but lifesaver all the same, when more popular foods were either too costly, or simply unavailable – and it continued to play that role well into the settlement of the American South. Today, cornbread has not only shaken that cloak of “second choice”, but has earned a prominent position as one of America’s most storied and popular foods – maybe too popular, as Michael Pollan has suggested.

To me, however, southern cornbread still retains a bit of mystery – why, in a land where everything -I repeat, Everything- is sweetened almost beyond human acceptability, does traditional southern cornbread have absolutely NO sugar or sweetener? And even more of a puzzlement when one thinks that here we have a food that truly deserves to be sweeter – a real mystery!

Now, another note of controversy – this recipe is a yeasted cornbread – which is only possible if we add some white flour to the cornmeal, because without such, the yeast cannot raise the cornmeal. So, this is either a transition recipe or one that was reflective of Yankee influence – either way, it represents changing tastes and food choices of a developing nation – and I offer it as a unique snapshot of America’s food culture.

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Corn Meal Yeast Muffins
Mrs. Ed Seymore
The Cotton Country Collection
page 111
(my comments in parentheses)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup scalded milk (I used sour milk, of course)

  • 1 cup cornmeal (white is preferred in the South)

  • 1 ½ tsp. salt

  • 3 Tbs. sugar

  • ¼ cup butter

  • 1 pack of dry yeast (about 2 1/4 tsp.)

  • ¼ cup warm water

  • 3 cups white AP flour

  • 1 egg, beaten

  • Butter

  • Salt

  • Cornmeal

Procedure:

  • Pour scalded milk over cornmeal, salt, sugar, and butter.

  • Stir until smooth and butter is melted.

  • Cool

  • Soften yeast in warm water. Stir into cornmeal mixture. Add beater egg.

  • Add flour gradually, beating after each addition.

  • Knead on a lightly floured board until smooth.

  • Shape into a ball and place into a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled, about 2 hours.

  • Punch the dough down and let rest for 10-15 minutes.

  • Shape the dough and put into greased muffin tins. (stretch and mold them into rounds – this dough is delightful to work with!)

  • Brush tops with butter and sprinkle with a mixture of cornmeal and salt to taste.  (I gave my muffins a 30 minute rise at this point.)

  • Bake at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

  • Makes 2 dozen medium sized muffins.

This makes a delightful muffin!  It is quite tender, yet it has the distinct crumb and stability of a yeasted bread.  The crust is crisp when fresh from the oven, but even more so when toasted – quite nice!  The smell baking is superb, and again when toasted.  I loved this muffin.  Mrs. Seymore suggests this recipe makes up to 4 dozen muffins – she must have tins the size of sewing thimbles, or god knows what – but I got 2 dozen muffins on the smaller size.

I’ll be submitting this to Nick @ Mecheesmo (who is subbing for Susan while she’s in Switzerland checking on her tax shelters) for this week’s, YeastSpotting party.

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About drfugawe

I'm a guy with enough time to do as I please, and that my resources allow. The problem(s) are: I have 100s of interests; I have a short attention span; I have instant expectations; I'm lazy; and I'm broke. But I'm OK with all that, 'cause otherwise I'd be so busy, I'd be dead in a year.
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9 Responses to America’s Food Secrets #5 – Monroe, Louisiana

  1. Yeasted corn bread is so interesting to me. Where you gave your muffins a 30-minute rise, did the original recipe call for no rise at all?

  2. drfugawe says:

    Correct! Admittedly, they didn’t rise much in that 30 mins, so perhaps I shouldn’t have – but I loved the feel of this dough, and it makes a great muffin.

    Hey, hope you’re enjoying the hell out of Switz – are you doing some other areas too?

  3. Mimi says:

    Your rolls look so good with the butter melting on top. Did they taste much like cornbread or did they taste more like a yeast bread?

  4. I love the way these muffins look! My in-laws were from Monroe, and at first I thought their praise of the Cotton Country cookbook was just home-town pride, but it truly is a great regional cookbook. Glad to find this via Yeastspotting.

  5. drfugawe says:

    Mimi/Nancy,
    Thanks for visiting and commenting. The muffins actually have a unique texture – they have a crumb like a yeasted bread, but it’s tender as a corn muffin is – thing I especially like about them is they have a crusty exterior, which returns when they are toasted on day two+.

    Yes, I wasn’t kidding with my praise of the book, it is so well crafted and edited that I’m not aware of any other Junior League cookbook that is better! And I mean that sincerely.

  6. Marjoke says:

    Your muffins look very tasting and I just love the use of sour milk (we’ve enough of that in the Netherlands).
    I just must try this recipe as soon as possible.

  7. drfugawe says:

    Hi Marjoke,
    Thanks for stopping by – Yes, I think most U.S. bakers equate sour milk with rotten meat, and they pitch it – Sad, because it adds a wonderful flavor element to baked goods.

  8. I was trained to toss sour milk and I haven’t been able to bring myself to do otherwise — I’ll have to work on retraining. Sadly, our trip was only long enough to make sure our daughter was safely deposited at school in Lugano — it sure would have been nice to stay longer than a couple of days.

  9. drfugawe says:

    Oh Susan, we all know that the only folks who can scoot off to far away places, and then come back the next day, are the true jet-setters of the world! And we’re jealous.

    Welcome back anyway – hope you smuggled back some yummy pastries.

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