Recently I was discussing a lemon dessert recipe with a friend and she said every time she makes it, it turns out a little different but always delicious. This reminded me of a recipe I have made for decades that also turns out different every time. It was then we realized we both own very worn copies of “The Tassajara Bread Book”, written by Edward Espe Brown, Chief Priest, Zen Center in San Franciso, originally published in 1970. It is not a hyperbole when I say this book is well used. It is full of simple and delicious creations containing the unspoken secret ingredient of all good recipes, LOVE. It is unspoken yet very present throughout the book. On page two there is a Composite of Kitchen Necessities that begins with,
Bringing food alive with your loving presence.
To have compassion, to have respect for fresh foods, for broken bowls, for dirty napkins, and little bugs.
To take care of leftovers, not saying, oh that’s all right, we have plenty, we can throw that away.
Just to make deepest love all the time, concentrating not on the food, but on yourself: making the best effort to allow things to fulfill their functions. In this way everything is deliciously full of warmth and kindness.
This may seem a bit esoteric for a cookbook but I love that it was written with such thoughtfulness and it has endured the test of time.
OK, let’s get on to the cornbread. I know I have made this hundreds of times. Just look at the book and its pages! This is truly the easiest recipe ever! No joke! Need a quick dish for a potluck? This is it! Always good and loved by all. The mixing literally takes minutes. It bakes for about 50 minutes (just time enough to get dressed and ready) and unlike most cornbread, it stays moist and fresh for days.
Let’s get baking.
1 c coarse ground cornmeal
1/2 c whole wheat flour
1/2 c unbleached white flour
2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
1/4 – 1/2 c honey or molasses
1/4 c oil
3 c milk or buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Combine dry ingredients.
- Combine wet ingredients
- Mix together. Mixture will quite watery.
- Pour into a greased 9 x 9 inch pan.
- Bake for 50 minutes or until top is springy when gently touched.
What makes the three layers? It states in the book that this recipe was discovered quite by accident. The corn meal settles to the bottom, the bran from the whole wheat flour rises, leaving an egg-custardy layer in the middle. Here’s the thing, though. It doesn’t always turn out with the three distinct layers but it is always delicious. What makes the difference? Who knows, but I suspect it has to do with the coarseness of the cornmeal and the amount of bran present in the whole wheat flour. The moisture content of the egg could also alter the outcome. So have no fear and just know that layered or not it is worth making and everyone loves it!
I cannot leave this post without giving you one more quote from the book. I should preface it by saying I find it really annoying when people are so protective and refuse to share recipes. What is that about? Family secrets? If you think about it, most recipes that people hold so dear are not original. They become family recipes because they are associated with the love that goes into them and the sharing with loved ones. If you do your research you will most likely find that Aunt Shirley’s famous chocolate chip cookie recipe came from the back of the Nestle chip bag or Grandma’s pie dough is from a recipe on the Crisco can. No joke! I believe the book says it all.
“A recipe doesn’t belong to anyone. Given to me, I give it to you. Only a guide, only a skeletal framework. You must fill in the flesh according to your nature and desire. Your life, your love will bring these words into full creation. This cannot be taught. You already know. So please cook, love, feel, create.”
I hope you will check out this little gem of a cookbook. It contains many good, healthy recipes and morsels of wisdom. For sure the cornbread is a must do. In the spirit of the above message, try adding jalapeno or bacon to the batter. In other words, let it reflect you. Perhaps this will become one of your family’s treasures, but remember, don’t keep it a secret! Thoughts?