Deer Run Corn Bread
By – Elaine Marie Cooper
When I wrote the Thanksgiving scene in Road to Deer Run, I was not exaggerating about the heavenly smell of the Colonial cornbread cooking in the oven! The aroma of molasses and cinnamon filled my home with great anticipation about tasting this cornbread based on an old Colonial recipe. Breads made in colonial kitchens were generally made without leavening and this recipe was typical.
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon molasses
Pinch of salt
3 cups corn meal
½ cup wheat (or other grain) flour
½ tsp. cinnamon (my own addition to the recipe since Mary Thomsen loved this spice)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a bowl mix corn meal, wheat (or other) flour, ½ tsp. cinnamon and pinch of salt. Mix well and set aside. Warm milk on low heat, add butter until melted in milk. After it’s melted pour in a bowl and add molasses. Stir well. Add dry mixture and stir until moistened. Pour and press firmly into greased pie pan. Cook for 30 minutes.
It smells delightful. However, it is extremely dry! I would warm up each serving in the microwave (not available in Colonial America) and be generous with softened butter and delicious jam. Then I found a note that says you can dip it butter and molasses. Guess what? It was super tasty! I melted the butter and molasses and it added great flavor!
I’m certain that it was practical in the 1700’s to have breads as dry as possible, eliminating the threat of bread becoming moldy too quickly. However, if you and your guests prefer modern recipes, they are several box mixes available for your holiday guests. Just throw the boxes in the trash so your guests think you are being authentically colonial. 😉
This recipe can also be used to make Johnny Cakes or Journey Cakes, so named because they made great sustenance when traveling.
Happy Thanksgiving! (Read on for an excerpt of Elaine’s book, Road to Deer Run, set for release on Dec. 10th!)
The year is 1777 and the war has already broken the heart of Mary Thomsen, a nineteen-year-old colonial woman from Massachusetts. Her brother, Asa is dead – killed by the King’s army, so when she stumbles across wounded British solder, Daniel Lowe, she struggles with her feelings toward her ‘enemy.’
* * *
The day of Thanksgiving arrived with the smells of a mouth-watering feast. Daniel’s appetite grew to a fevered hunger.
Upon entering the main room, he saw Sarah was in charge of twisting the twine tightly that held the wild turkey cooking over the fire. He watched her carefully observe the bird slowly untwist itself. Once it stopped moving, she spun the fowl once again. The young girl was an attentive sentry at her task.
When the six-year-old noticed Daniel watching her, she bubbled over with excitement. “Mr. Lowe, do you know how we trapped this wild turkey? We lined up kernels of corn to a turkey pen. The bird does not know he is heading for a trap. The next thing you know, the turkey is caught in the dug-out pen — and mother is looking for the axe!” She placed both hands on her hips and gave a self-satisfied nod.
“That is quite clever. And not a shot has to be fired.”
“Unless the turkey refuses to be caught by hand. Then Mother gets her fowling piece to shoot him. ’Tis rather messy.”
“Ah.” Daniel attempted to smother a laugh.
He turned toward Mary, who reached for a bread peel. She maneuvered the long handled shovel to remove baked bread from deep in the oven. When she brought out the crisp loaf, Daniel inhaled the aroma.
“That smells worthy of a royal feast.” He salivated with the smell.
“Or of a humble Massachusetts meal. ’Tis simply corn and rye bread.” Mary’s cheeks were bright red from the fire’s heat and Daniel noticed how the color enhanced her beauty. As she removed her white apron, the red wool of her gown draped her in such a manner as to bring a long, admiring stare from Daniel.
Out of the corner of his eye, Daniel noticed the widow watching him. The mother’s expression showed more than a little concern.
“Mr. Lowe.” The widow’s voice was terse. “Would you be so kind as to set out the linen tablecloth and napkins for us? This is a special occasion worthy of decorating our table board.” She held out the cloth pieces toward Daniel.
“I’d be happy to make myself useful.” He took the linens and awkwardly unfolded each piece, setting them out as best he could. “I hope I am doing this right.”
“You are doing a fine job, Mr. Lowe.” Mary’s presence next to him, as well as her lavender scent, caused his heart to quicken. “Although I am assuming you have not set too many a table in your lifetime?”
“You are most correct, Miss Thomsen. Like many of my experiences here in Massachusetts, it is quite new to me.” Daniel laughed at his clumsy attempts to set everything out neatly. He was relieved when the widow declared Thanksgiving supper was ready. As the group of four sat down at the table, Widow Thomsen led them in a prayer of thanks.
“Dear heavenly Father,” she began, “we are Your humble servants who have come this day to give You thanks for the victory You have afforded our troops in our struggle for freedom.” She went on to pray for the safety of the colonial soldiers, especially for James and those who fought side-by-side with her son.
“And Lord,” she continued, “we are grateful for Your merciful favor upon Mr. Lowe, that You would bring him back from the brink of eternity and provide Your blessed healing upon him. For this we are thankful, dear heavenly Lord. Amen.”
“Amen,” Mary and Sarah echoed.
“Amen,” Daniel said softly.
Everyone’s eyes widened at the vast array of choices. There were sweet potatoes roasted in the ashes, peas, turnips, and carrots cooked in a kettle, several different kinds of beans, freshly baked bread, and of course, the fresh turkey. Daniel could not ingest enough of the women’s hearthside endeavors.
“Save room for the celebration cake, Mr. Lowe.” Mary laughed. “Although I must say, ’tis a joy to see your earnest eating.”
“Do not fret, Miss Thomsen. I shall gladly make room for your cake.”
“Well, I am relieved that Missus Stearns did not begin her travail before I could partake of this Thanksgiving bounty.” The widow sat back from the table, obviously satiated. “She should be sending for me any day now.”
“The husbands come home from war,” Sarah interjected, “and nine months later they are calling for the midwife. That is what mother always says.” Sarah resumed eating her cake, wiping crumbs off of her blue woolen bodice.
Mary’s eyes opened wide and her cheeks turned bright red.
Widow Thomsen glared at her younger daughter and said tersely, “That is what we say in the company of females only, Miss Sarah.”
“I am sorry, Mr. Lowe.” The girl paused in her eating and stared at her lap. “I did not realize men did not know this was the way of it.”