Cherokee Bean Bread

A picture of me when I first learned to cook a recipe

One of the first things that I ever learned how to cook, something edible, was in grade school and it was cornbread. This came about because our teacher asked her students to make a recipe reflecting the cultural heritage of a certain group. You could choose a group or it would be assigned to you by our teacher. This exercise coincided with the library’s efforts to get students into reading books on other cultures. Coincidentally, I was assigned the Appalachian people. I did not know it at the time that there were deep connections between my own cultural upbringing and these people. So, I went into the library, picked out a book on the Appalachian people and brought it home with me.

My mother was real intent on helping me get this right. She had made cornbread many times before for us but it was always the same. Sometimes she used buttermilk and other times she didn’t. She would slip a big pat of butter between the slices. In the book, I found a recipe for cracklin’ cornbread. Cracklin’ is essentially fried pieces of pig skin. We went to Winn Dixie and mom bought about 2 cups of tiny pieces and ALL of it went into the recipe. At the time, I had no clue what it was exactly but thought it looked disgusting. So, I made the recipe with my mother’s help and I took it to the library with me the next day. Every students’ dish was set up, covered in plastic wrap or aluminum foil on the fold-out tables. I  wrote on the index card what my recipe was, placed it in front of the dish and then went to class.

Unbeknownst to me, the students were not going to eat our food first but it was there first to be enjoyed by the adults; the teachers, the parents, the librarians, school officials came first to “assess” it and move on. When classes were over, I went to the tables to try some of the food but my cornbread was all gone. I was relieved to not eat the cracklin’ but also a little disappointed. So, I took my empty dish home and I never made cornbread with cracklin’ again.

We all have habits and cultural traditions that we hold or break from. My ancestors (like many others) likely adopted habits that became a tradition after only a single generation of practice. Once fondness for a particular habit develops, it becomes hard to break. Appalachian people found a way to incorporate every part of the pig into their recipes, as I’ve read that they slaughtered and consumed 5 – 6 pigs per winter. Regardless if this was healthy, it held to the ethos of “waste not, want not”.

Cherokee Bean Bread – 3 Versions

With that in mind, I love beans of all kinds and now that I am vegan I have the opportunity to incorporate them into every possible dish. When you cook up a pound of beans or even open a single can, it becomes impossible sometimes to use up the entire recipe for just two people. In these recipes, I have included three different kinds of beans, Southern ones, of course. The cornmeal should be straight cornmeal, not pre-mixed with flour or chemical leaveners in it. The first recipe is a light cornmeal, the traditional cornmeal, nutritional yeast (to add a cheesy taste), black pepper, thyme and lima beans. The second recipe is blue cornmeal, rosemary and butter beans. Finally, the third recipe is heavy grit cornmeal, cayenne/paprika and black-eyed peas. All are real satisfying but my favorite is the first recipe. Each recipe serves 8 people and takes about 45 minutes to prepare and cook. Credit is due to the Cherokee Indians (another part of my ancestry) for including beans in cornbread, as they helped European settlers to develop recipes from their native environment. That exact recipe is not here as it had too much moisture and relied on eggs to set almost like a custard.

A note on the cornmeal: I have a Kitchenaid mixer. This past weekend I bought an attachment to make my own flour or cornmeal. As this is a recent acquisition and my intention is to obtain dents from another supplier to make my own cornmeal, the flour in these recipes are store bought. According to various sources NOTHING beats fresh cornmeal. Incidentally, I came across this picture in an Appalachian cookbook of an old-fashioned gristmill. This one

was positioned over a stream, as it was water-powered, but later was converted to diesel/gas power. People paid a dollar, if they paid at all, to have their dents ground up for them. Now, don’t you feel lucky that you can just go into the store and buy a bag of it?

Cherokee Bean Bread – Version #1

1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tbs nutritional yeast
1 tsp salt
2 tsp fresh thyme, finely chopped, or 1 tsp. dry thyme
1 tsp black pepper freshly ground
1 cups milk, non-dairy
1/4 cup applesauce
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 cup lima beans, fresh or frozen and thawed

1. Measure the dry ingredients in a bowl and stir. Combine wet ingredients in another bowl. Incorporate wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Fold beans into the mixture.

2. Pour into a hot greased iron skillet and bake at 425 until brown (usually 30 minutes or so).

Cherokee Bean Bread – Version #2

1 1/2 cups cornmeal, blue
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried rosemary, crushed
1 cups milk, non-dairy
1/4 cup applesauce
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 cup butter beans, drained and rinsed

Directions are the same as Version #1.

Cherokee Bean Bread – Version #3

1 cup cornmeal, real heavy-grit
1 cup cornmeal, regular
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne
1 cups milk, non-dairy
1/4 cup applesauce
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 cup black-eyed peas

See above for directions.

2 responses to “Cherokee Bean Bread

  1. This sounds wonderful! I too struggle to use up all the beans I cook for just two people! Do the beans go into the batter whole? Do you think they could be puréed?

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