The Braille Monitor                                                                                                 April 2005

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Making Cornbread

by Marc Maurer

From the Editor: I had been a member of the NFB a little less than a year when I tasted Dr. Jerniganís cornbread for the first time. He used cast iron muffin tins with shallow, decorative indentations that turned out perfect little cornbread muffins with designs on their tops, rather like decorative Jell-O molds. The individual pieces of cornbread were rather small, so it was easy to delude oneself that just one or two more pieces couldnít do much harm. That logic meant that at any meal in the Jernigan home at which cornbread was served, many pans of cornbread were consumed by the guests.

It was probably in the early eighties that the cornbread kits discussed in the following correspondence were first assembled. I bought a kit immediately, but I must admit that I have only rarely used it to make cornbread. I think it is the two teaspoons of oil or bacon fat per muffin that discourages me.

I can report that the kit is equally good for creating individual Yorkshire puddings to serve with very special roast beef dinners. The method for making Yorkshire puddings is identical to that for cornbread that President Maurer describes.

That said, the exchange of correspondence here is self-explanatory and may be useful to anyone else who never made cornbread with Dr. Jernigan. Here it is:

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Subject: cornbread kit

My package came today with gifts for Christmas. Thanks so much! I have a few questions about the cornbread kit. I thought it would come with directions. What are the cooking template and the filling cups for? How are these things useful to the blind baker? This kit was obviously put together with the blind baker in mind, and we hope to use it to its full potential. We are new to cornbread baking. Are there how-to guides or recipe books in print or Braille? Have a very merry Christmas.

February 17, 2005

Dear _____,

I have your email letter of December 23, 2004, and I am delighted to respond. I regret that I am only getting to it now, so please accept my apology for the delay.

Steve Marriott and Marc Maurer grilling hamburgers.
Steve Marriott, under sleepshades, receives instruction from Marc Maurer on the proper way to grill hamburgers

When I joined the National Federation of the Blind in 1969, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan was our president. One of the things he taught me during the first few months of my acquaintanceship with him was how to cook hamburgers over a charcoal fire. It was an experience I will not forget.

Dr. Jernigan liked to cook. He was from the South (Tennessee), and he had eaten cornbread all his life. He liked both the texture and the taste, but he thought he might be able to improve on the product. Some cornbread is crispy on the outside, and he liked that.

I think it was in 1971 that he put an article about the making of cornbread in the Monitor. The response to this article was so favorable that the recipe section of the Monitor was created. We have featured recipes in each issue of the magazine ever since.

Later Dr. Jernigan began teaching some of the rest of us how to make cornbread. The process demands a lot of management of hot oil, so a cooking template was designed to assist the blind cornbread baker.

The cornbread kit consists of a cast iron twelve-cup cornbread pan, an oral syringe, a package of cornbread cups (these are one-ounce paper cups that may be identified on the box by some other name but serve to hold cornbread batter), and a metal template that fits over the cornbread pan. To make cornbread, it is first necessary to season the pan. The cornbread pan should be covered with vegetable oil and baked in the oven at a fairly low temperature for several hours. This puts oil into the iron of the cornbread pan.

When baking cornbread, the cook puts two teaspoons of oil into each of the cups of the cornbread pan. I recommend placing it on a cookie sheet so that any spilled oil will not splash onto the bottom of the oven. The cornbread pan on the cookie sheet goes into the oven at 450 to 475 degrees to preheat the oil. When the cookie sheet bearing the cornbread pan comes out of the oven, one completely full paper cup of cornbread batter is emptied into each of the muffin cups of the cornbread pan. A blind cook can do this by quickly fitting the template over the cornbread pan and squeezing out the contents of a cornbread cup into each of the holes of the templateóone cup per hole. As the batter hits the hot oil, it should sizzle. If it does not sizzle when it hits the oil, the oil is not hot enough. The cornbread begins to bake in the hot oil the instant it hits the pan. Then the cookie sheet holding the cornbread pan goes back into the oven for sixteen minutes. When it comes out, the cornbread should be crispy on the outside and moist in the middle. The process is a little complicated, but it makes delectable cornbread. I suspect that over a period of thirty years I have eaten some hundreds of pounds of it.

Dr. Jernigan liked his cornbread without sugar. The recipe for one pan of cornbread (twelve muffins) is as follows:

1 cup stone-ground cornmeal

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup buttermilk

The method is to mix the dry ingredients together, then pour in the buttermilk and mix the batter. I recommend that the paper cups be filled with batter using the syringe immediately and placed on a tray so that they can be used to fill the muffin cups as soon as the oil is hot.

I imagine that another cornbread recipe would work in the cornbread pans, but Iíve never tried one that had sugar in it. I donít know whether the sugar would burn in the hot oil, but I doubt it. Iíve always thought the cornbread recipe Dr. Jernigan devised was satisfactory without improvement, so Iíve never tried to change it.

I hope this gives you the information you need, and I hope you have a great time eating the cornbread.

†††††††††††

Sincerely,

Marc Maurer, President

National Federation of the Blind

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