Monday, April 6, 2009

The Comfort of Cornbread

When Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office on March 4, 1861, he reached out the southern states considering secession from the union. “We are not enemies, but friends.” He closed his inaugural address with a call to unified patriotism. “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Lincoln hoped he was buying time to solve the problems with the rebelling states, but the first thing he received when he entered his office was a letter from Major Anderson at Fort Sumter stating the garrison would run out of supplies in a month or six weeks. Lincoln said later “of all the trials I have had since I came here, none begin to compare with those I had between the inauguration and the [April 13] fall of Fort Sumter.”

He was besieged at all hours by people who wanted to be appointed to offices in the new Republican government, while trying to manage a looming war. He said of those days that he was “like a man so busy renting rooms at one end of his house that he has no time to put out a fire burning in the other.”

It is no wonder that photographs taken between 1861 and 1865 show him becoming more and more thin as his months in office and at war took their toll.

Both Abraham and Mary Lincoln grew up eating cornbread. It was a comfort food for Mary, one of the foods she craved while living some of her widowed years in France. Abraham Lincoln is said to have enjoyed cornbread in the White House as well. This recipe, adapted from 1846, is sturdy. It is all corn, unsweetened and doesn’t rise very much while baking. It is tasty served warm and makes a nice base for any kind of creamed meat dish.

Epicure’s Cornbread
1 egg, separated
2 cups cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon soft butter
3/4 cup boiling water
3/4 cup sour milk or buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the egg white until it forms soft peaks and set aside. Put cornmeal, salt, baking soda and soft butter in a medium mixing bowl. Carefully pour boiling water over all and stir to mix. Combine the sour milk and egg yolk. Add to cornmeal mixture and stir well. Gently fold in the beaten egg white. Spoon batter into a well greased 9-inch round baking pan. Bake until firm in center, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Copyright 2009 Rae Katherine Eighmey. All rights reserved.

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