I don’t know if any of you are familiar with Sally Fallon or her cookbook Nourishing Traditions. Sally Fallon spent ten years putting together recipes that focused on Old World traditions before cheap and easy were the primary objective of our meals. Her research and inspiration were the provactive studies conducted by a dentist named Weston Price in the 1930s. Dr Price traveled the world to document the teeth and bone structures of different peoples. After extensive research, Price came to the conclusion that people with good bone structure and strong teeth – full, wide jaws and well-formed, even teeth – came from pre-industrialized villages that all had common nutritional threads. The people whose villages had already switched to more processed food tended to have crooked, crowded teeth, narrow jaws and unbalanced features. Dr Price’s own book, Nutritive Degeneration is a fascinating, if dense read, illustrated by smiling faces of people Dr Price encountered in small villages and towns.
For her own book, Sally Fallon paired up with a nutritionist, Mary G. Enig, to explore these common threads in diet from a physiological and chemical point-of-view. Based on Price’s findings and Enig’s nutritional recommendations, Fallon was able to write authortiative recipes urging us to cook like our great grandmothers used to do. Nourishing Traditions caters to both cooks and food-enthusiasts with its descriptions of cooking methods and recipes interspersed with nutritional information and stories of how food was cooked way back when. Anjuli and I have perused this interesting, though controversial book quite heavily. Sally Fallon’s book covers a full dietary range – meat, vegetables, grains, fruits and dairy.
The first topic that attracted our attention was whole grains. We like to cook with whole grain for their nutritional superiority and taste, but at the time we didn’t know too much more. We learned that whole grains have an outer shell or covering which white flour and more processed grains do not. When a grain is whole, it includes the germ, bran, and endosperm. When the grain is refined, all that remains is the endosperm. The germ is where a baby plant sprouts. Therefore it is filled with nutrients – in this case a concentrated source of vitamin E, B vitamins (thiamin, niacin and riboflavin), and minerals phosphorus, magnesium, iron and zinc as well as being rich in protein and fat. The bran also contains many B vitamins and minerals as well as the fiber.
Sally points out that unlike ruminants, we don’t have four stomachs to break down all the nutrients in the whole grains over a day of chewing our cud. In the pre-industrialized world, grains were treated with great care. People knew, through trial and error over the millenia, that grains need to be soaked. Better still they need to be soaked in a solution that is slightly acidic. This neutralizes the phytic acid which would otherwise bind to vitamins and minerals in the body and prevent their absorption. For this reason, she maintains, all whole grains and rolled oats should be soaked before making the dough in a slightly acidulated solution. This acid can be in the form of kefir, buttermilk, yogurt, whey or lemon juice. This intrigued us. We began experimenting with some of the whole grain recipes for yeast breads from King Arthur’s Whole Grain Baking, adding this step the night before, according to Sally’s instructions.
We found that taking this additional step not only makes whatever you are baking far more digestible and nutritious, but leads to a lighter texture – much lighter than you normally would find cooking with whole grains. The grains have opportunity to absorb all that moisture, similar to when you soak a bean or lentil.
However, thus far, all our experiments had been with yeast bread. I had hesitated to experiment with quick breads because it is always requested to keep the dry and wet ingredients separate until the end, when you finally combine and mix as little as possible. If I soaked the grain beforehand, I obviously could not do that. So naturally, I was curious what would happen.
Austin was home. I wanted to make vegetarian chili and cornbread for him. I decided to take the plunge and figure out some way to make the cornbread – which is a quick bread – by soaking the whole grain first. I combined quite gritty whole grain cornmeal and whole wheat flour with the buttermilk and maple syrup in my recipe. I left them to soak overnight. The next day I combined my leavening, fat and eggs and stirred it into the whole grain until just combined. Then I cooked it in the oven in a cast iron frying pan to give it a good crust.
It worked! It was amazing. Austin said it was the best cornbread he had ever had. It was a real keeper – sweet, rich, soft and fluffy but full-bodied with a fantastic crust on the bottom.
2 cups whole cornmeal (the one I used was Arrowhead Mills and it was very gritty before the soak)
1 cup whole wheat flour (I used King Arthur organic)
1 1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 1/3 teaspoon Bakewell Cream*
1 2/3 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup ghee
2 ears of fresh corn
1 tablespoon ghee for the pan
*Note: Bakewell Cream is a leavening similar to baking powder that some people consider to be superior. I have been experimenting with it as well and tend to agree so far.
Soak the grain. Measure out the cornmeal and whole wheat into a medium bowl. Add the buttermilk and maple syrup. Combine until uniform but no more. Cover the bowl with a plate and let soak overnight (7 to 12 hours).
Grill the corn. Ramani showed me how to grill the corn as follows. Insert a metal skewer into the end of a raw ear of corn. Turn the gas on your range to medium. Hold the corn over the range and slowly rotate until it starts to pop and brown. You are done when almost all the kernels have changed color, about 5 minutes per ear. Remove from the heat. Leave on a plate until cool enough to handle. When cool cut the corn from the cob and chop coarsely in a mini chopper.
Note: You can do this outside on your grill as well. It can be done on an electric stove, but it makes a bit more mess.
Get ready. Next day when you’re ready to make your batter, preheat the oven to 400 F. Place a 9″-10″ cast iron frying pan on the middle rack of your oven while you are preheating so it gets hot.
Make the batter. In a separate medium-sized bowl add the salt, Bakewell Cream, baking soda, ghee, eggs and corn. Whisk to combine completely. Add to the soaked grain and stir until just combined.
Bake the bread. Remove the skillet from the oven. Use a mitt! Add 1 tablespoon of ghee and swirl to cover the bottom and sides of pan. Add the batter. Return to the oven and cook 25 to 30 minutes until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and serve warm.