The Art of Cornbread
This "Staff of Life" Provided Energy
Ray George conducted a cornbread class. This hearty bread was once a staple in the diet of the Oneida People. For centuries this nutritious “staff of life” and its primary ingredient, corn flour, provided energy.
The Oneida People have known the value of corn flour in the diet for hundreds of years; cornbread is high in complex carbohydrates, which provide stamina.
Oneida messengers, who needed a great deal of energy, would run from village to village with a side pack of crushed corn as their sole provision, said George, who is of Oneida descent. The runner would mix the corn with water for a fast, nutritious, energizing meal.
And tradition states that it is cornbread, or corn mush — an unformed version of the bread — that Oneidas prepared to help feed George Washington’s starving troops at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777 during the American Revolutionary War.
The corn flour used in the breads is yielded from white corn, also known as edible corn. The task of procuring the flour from the corn, however, was and is demanding. Women would begin the process early in the morning and have the bread ready within a few hours for their families’ breakfast. They would:
The modern process is less arduous but actually more time consuming:
The bread made today is a variety of the bread of hundreds of years ago. Beans are now added, providing protein. But the art of cornbread making, of any sort, is not commonplace, so a group gathered in the Nation’s Cookhouse to learn this ancient task. Participants were taught the knack of making perfect cornbread wheels by George, who holds classes in cornbread and sells the loaves throughout the Northeast.
The first step is to mix the corn flour — which is not available in stores — cooked red kidney beans and boiling water until all ingredients are moistened. After it is mixed, the dough is gathered into a ball and then gradually shaped into a wheel. To make the wheel smooth, and to keep the dough from sticking to hands, water is needed. The easiest method, according to George, is to smooth the wheel under a running faucet. When the wheel is smooth, it is then placed on its side into slowly boiling water. It is finished cooking when it spins and rises to the top in approximately 30 minutes.SEE RELATED VIDEOS:
The Art of Making Cornbread
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