If you browse seasonal recipes you probably won’t find cornbread listed as a springtime favorite. It’s typically associated with corn’s fall harvest season. However corn is easy to store year round and cornbread makes a delicious side for any spring cookout, especially when you grew the corn yourself.
This bloody butcher cornbread is simple, easily made vegan, and offers a unique purple/blue hue. This recipe assumes that you already own and know how to operate some sort of grain mill to process your corn. If you don’t own one there are many affordable, home scale options available.
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup bloody butcher cornmeal
2 Tbs. baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cups vegetable oil
1 1/3 cups milk
1 egg or 1/4 cup applesauce
Note: if you’re someone who like sweet cornbread 1/4 cup of white sugar may be added to this recipe.
First prepare a pan. While you can use a small cake pan or even muffin tins, this recipe comes out best baked in a preheated cast iron frying pan. The center stays soft but it gives the cornbread delicious, crispy edges.
To prepare the pan make sure it is well seasoned and coat it with a little vegetable oil. Then place it in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Once the oven preheats leave it in for an additional 5 minutes before adding the batter.
While your oven and pan are preheating stir together all the dry ingredients then add the oil, milk and applesauce or egg and stir until well combined.
Pour the batter into your preheated pan and place in the oven and bake at 350°F for 20-25 minutes or until a butter knife or toothpick come out clean. It’s best served warm with a little butter. Enjoy!
The Three Sisters Garden has gained some popularity in recent years and for good reason. Unlike conventional agriculture The Three Sisters Garden works with nature to provide for the crops needs, keep maintanence low, and keep soil fertility up without the addition of chemical fertilizers. It’s was perfect for the Native Americans and is perfect modern organic gardener.
Before the advent of large agricultural equipment these features weren’t just nice and environmentally friendly they were necessary. Imagine gardening without metal tools, sprinklers or hoses, or commercial garden additives nevermind tractors and cultivators. The traditional Three Sisters Garden was easy to grow and provided the basic staples of the Native American diet. Together corn, beans, and squash provided balanced nutrition.
To plant a Three Sisters Garden the traditional way you should prepare a fairly large space. Corn needs plenty of plants in one area as it’s wind pollinated. In some cultures the space was circular to help with pollination. The corn is planted in hills about 5 inches high, 18 inches across and 5 feet apart. The tops should be flat to prevent rain water run off. These hills allow the soil to warm more quickly in the spring and allow for better drainage. Traditionally it was common to add some fertility to each hill like fish or fish scraps before planting. Unless you fish a lot, compost or manure will do for the modern garden. If using manure mix it with the soil or bury slightly so it doesn’t burn the plants. Plant 4 corns seeds in a six inch square in each hill.
Three Sisters gardening often works best with flint, dent, or flour corn varieties as they are harvested at the end of the season. If you choose sweet corn you’ll have to carefully make your way through sprawling squash plants to reap your harvest. Alternatively you can plant sunflowers in place of corn which was also done by some native cultures.
You can find Southern Exposure’s flour, flint, and dent corn varieties here. Native American varieties include Hickory Cane Dent Corn and Cherokee White Flour though other varieties work well too.
Once the corn is 4 inches tall it’s time to plant the beans. This is also a good time to give your patch a good weeding before the plants get large. Then you can plant 4 beans in each hill placing them 3 inches away from the corn plants completing your original square. They’ll use the corn plants as living trellis and provide them with nitrogen throughout the growing season. Corn is a very heavy feeder so sustained nitrogen is essential to a good crop. In choosing bean varieties make sure you purchase pole beans not bush beans. It’s also a good idea to choose native or heirloom varieties unless your using sunflowers in place of corn. Some modern bean varieties have such big vines they can be too heavy for corn plants.
You’ll also want to consider whether you want green beans or drying beans. Some varieties are dual purpose. Most Native Americans planted and harvested their beans as drying beans so that they could be harvest in the fall and stored for winter use.
You can check out Southern Exposure’s pole beans here.
Once the beans have sprouted it’s time to weed again and then plant the squash. Planting squash too early can shade out beans before they have a chance to start climbing. The squash should be planted in the in new mounds identical to those that were for the corn and beans. Plant three seeds and thin to just two per hill. The squash vines ramble throughout the garden shading our weeds and keeping soil moist. This is particularly advantageous in areas prone to drought because corn also requires good moisture for good harvests. When the squash shows its first true leaves it’s probably time to weed again.
Choosing squash can be difficult because of the variety of options. Any vining plant (not bush) in the cucurbit family will do though most native american grew winter squash varieties and harvested all there crops in the fall for storage throughout the winter. At Southern Exposure our favorites tend to be moschata squash plants. These varieties are more resistant to the squash vine borer and can be harvested early and used in summer squash recipes or left to mature and harvested as winter squash for storage. Some people have also used cucumbers, watermelons, and gourds with great success. Just keep in mind with cucumbers and melons you’ll need to carefully make your way through your patch to harvest while the other plants are still growing.
You can find Southern Exposure’s winter squash here. Once again the moschata cultivars can be eaten early as summer squash or eaten as winter squash. These include varieties like Seminole Pumpkin, Tahitian Melon Winter Squash, Thai Kang Kob Pumpkin, and more.
While they are called Three Sisters Gardens many Native Americans included more than just three crops. For instance the Wampanoag people planted sunflowers on the North side of the garden so they wouldn’t shade the other crops but would help attract pollinators. Some cultures also incorporated pollinator plants like bee balm or other crops like tobacco or amaranth which is grown for its edible leaves and seeds.
Growing a three sisters garden can be an easy fun project for the organic gardener. It’s low maintenance and beautiful. Though most people don’t have to grow corns, beans, and squash as staples anymore it can be a great way to keep organic gardening techniques, cultural traditions, and seed saving alive and well.
If you’re having a hard time choosing plant varieties consider Southern Exposure’s Three Sisters Garden Package which includes Bloody Butcher Corn, Genuine Cornfield Beans, and Seminole Pumpkin Squash seeds plus a planting guide.
The crew of Farm and Sparrow bakes bread and pastries in a wood-fired brick oven. They sell to a local pizzeria as well as directly to consumers at several markets in nearby Asheville. We greatly enjoyed the powerful fragrance of fresh flour in the milling room and the taste of their Heirloom Grit bread.
We also visited two of the farms that Farm and Sparrow buys from. DaySpring Farms in Commerce, Georgia is operated by Murray Brett and his son Nathan. They grow Turkey Red wheat as well as NuEast hard red winter wheat, Appalachian hard white winter wheat, canola, corn, cowpeas, dry beans, and fresh vegetables. During our visit we picked up the Turkey Red wheat seed we’re now selling. Murray and Nathan are enthusiastic about growing corn and legume seed crops for us in the future, and we hope to line them up with some crops next year.
The last stop of our two-week road trip was Looking Back Farm in the northeast corner of North Carolina. There, Kenny Haines and his son Ben grow corn, wheat, cowpeas, and soybeans, much of it for Anson Mills.
They also do soybean trials for the Rural Advancement Foundation International. Kenny has been growing organically since 1987, long before organic food was popular. His wife was a nurse and insisted that their sons not be exposed to pesticides.
Looking Back Farm was one of the largest farms we visited on our trip. They farm 350 acres, all by themselves, with more and more help from Ben’s sons. They’re precision tractor operators, planting and weeding and harvesting all their crops with their equipment. Like many of the farms we visited, they scale their work to their family’s labor, since it’s hard to find skilled farm workers who’ll commit to the work and the farm.
When we had the opportunity a couple years ago, we were happy to buy some Iron and Clay pea seeds from them, but generally they grow no less than 10 acres of any crop. Southern Exposure’s inventories are small enough so that it would only make sense for them to grow seed for us if they were also growing the same crop for food or seed for someone else.
We asked David Bauer of Farm and Sparrow if any other bakeries also mill grain and buy from farmers. He mentioned Sub Rosa bakery in Richmond, VA. When I visited Sub Rosa, baker Evrim Dogu was making Polenta bread with Bloody Butcher corn from our neighbor William Hale, who also grows seed for us. The sourdough loaf we bought was very crusty on the outside and very creamy on the inside. I usually prefer a more even-textured bread, but found this loaf deeply satisfying.