Sunday, April 21, 2024


     There's been a box of cornbread mix in the cupboard for quite some time.  The oven in my old-but-not-antique gas range is questionable at best.  It's not usually a problem for me, since I enjoy cooking on the covered grill; roasts and curries and holiday turducken or corned beef work out well in a graniteware pan over hot coals.

     I haven't tried to bake in the grill.  Breads are tricky and home baking was a high art until the introduction of thermostatic controls*.  There are ways around it -- most breads and small cakes can be microwaved, though you don't end up with much in the way of crust.

     The cornbread mix microwaves well enough, but I wanted to do something different.  Can't you make cornmeal pancakes?

     Of course you can!  A little more milk and some melted butter, and there you go.  I cooked up a batch this morning, golden brown and slightly crumbly, and when it comes to rising pancakes, I think they're better than the all wheat-flour version, a little sweet (as the boxed cornbread mix tends to be; modern people put sugar in it, having no idea how to make proper cornbread) and full of flavor.

     It's a nice change from the usual.
* You can bake bread in a clay-dome oven, fireplace-side oven, or a cast-iron wood or coal stove, and plenty of people did.  But it's a skill with a long learning curve, especially judging and maintaining the correct temperature.  Both of my grandmothers would have grown up learning how to run a cast-iron stove with an oven, the latter addition patented in 1867, a decade or more before either of them was born.  They adopted improved stoves eagerly. (Unlike an earlier generation; Mom spoke of her grandmother's irritation at her grandfather, who would mark up the wood-stove blacking by flipping slices of potato onto the sides of it, to stick, sizzle and fall clear when cooked! Caught on a plate, the proto-chips were a treat for him and his grandchildren.†)  Later versions of those stoves included a dial thermometer in the oven door, but a number of methods were used to check temperature from early on -- the boiling point of water at 212°F gives you a low oven, and the ignition temperature of paper, 451°F (a number made famous later) a high oven.  While my covered grill offers the same air-and-damper controls as a cast-iron range, it has far lower thermal mass and is difficult to refuel while burning.  --Oh, I'll try some day, just to see how it goes.  The kitchen is a workshop with a highly-developed set of tools, prosaic though it may appear.
† So what's in stove-blacking? Plumbago -- graphite, that is -- lampblack -- which is carbon -- and a binder, like fat or paraffin grease.  Tasty!  I don't suppose small amounts of pencil-lead and carbon are all that immediately bad for you, but the state of California has probably already checked and found they are carcinogenic.


Joe in PNG said...

I suspect that the worldwide proliferation of various flatbreads is due to the difficulty of easily baking bread without modern temperature controls.
Sometimes, it's just a whole lot easier to slap that dough on a pan and make a pita/naan/tortilla/johnnycake.

Mike V said...

My grandparents had an electric stove but preferred cooking on a wood stove. They also had a big fireplace in their dining room, and I can remember them baking bread in a dutch oven in the fireplace. And they sometimes made fried cornbread as well. That made for some tasty eating! I miss those days.

Cop Car said...

One of my grandmothers cooked on an enamel kerosene stove, the other on cast iron wood stove. Other than cornbread (no sugar!) and biscuits, I don't recall their ever making breads. My mother was amazed that her daughter could bake yeast breads, but she herself had specialized in a wonderful variety of cakes, made possible by her "modern" (1940s) gas range.