The staff of life—Bread. It has for many centuries been essential to lives around the globe, a part of worlds old and new from ancient Egyptians to Rome and Greece, prized by princes and paupers and with symbolic significance to most religions.
American colonists arrived in the New World accustomed to bread made from flour, rejecting corn initially as a grain fit only for livestock. They soon learned from Native Americans to appreciate corn as a basis for delicious bread and puddings. Corn soon found a permanent place in American kitchens. “Old-fashioned” cooking, especially in the south, of corn pone, corn pudding and corn bread were easier alternatives to wheat based bread for people living in the country. Louisiana heat and the scarcity of flour complicated the making of traditional bread, and instead Cajuns and Creoles made corn pudding, sweet potato pudding, corn bread, biscuits or rice cakes.
Long a subject of superstition in Louisiana, one old Creole belief tells us that a loaf of bread upside down on the table is evidence that the devil is around. It was once considered acceptable by many to beat one’s wife if her bread didn’t rise, felt to be good evidence of infidelity.
In his book, The Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine, John Folse explains, ‘Ever since the native Indians introduced corn to Americans, corn bread has been a staple on the southern table. The Creoles adapted this simple bread using different ingredients and flavorings such as jalapeños to create new recipes.’
A casual invitation to dinner led to the thought of contributing something with a Louisiana flavor. The big Folse history and cookbook offers four recipes for corn bread in its chapter on breads. CREOLE CORN BREAD seemed like a good choice.
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 can cream corn
1 lb. ground meat
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup milk
1 onion diced
1½ cups grated cheese
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced
Preheat oven to 375°. This method of cooking corn bread calls for the use of a cast iron skillet. Chef John Folse points out that corn bread is best prepared in a preheated cast iron skillet. In a medium saucepan brown the meat—in this case sausage— over medium-high heat. In a separate bowl combine the cornmeal, corn, salt, baking soda, milk and egg. Blend well. Pour half of the cornmeal mixture into the heated cast iron skillet. Layer the ground sausage, onions, cheese and jalapeños on top of the corn batter. Pour the remaining batter over the layers. Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown. It should serve eight people.