27 September 2010

Family recipe Monday: yellow trees, blue corn, green chile

November cottonwoods in northern New Mexico. Photo by Shirley.

Every time fall starts, I feel that I should be in New Mexico. For me, this place is the essence of the season. I feel more drawn to the blazing yellow cottonwoods than to any other fall color. It has been marvelous and restorative to move to South Dakota and have cottonwoods around me again. As I type, the cottonwoods in the yard behind us are positively glittering as the wind moves through the leaves.

Fall in New Mexico is also forever associated in my memory with the aroma of woodsmoke, roasting green chiles and baking blue cornbread. Blue cornmeal and fresh green chiles are not easy to find up here, so Tartan Girl brought some when she, Ralph and Shirley came up here earlier in the month for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. I used some in pancakes this morning and will be making cornbread with more of it tonight. She brought enough for us all.

Because it's fall, you see, and it's time for blue and green to go with the yellow.

Chiles are a staple of Southwest cooking. If a specific variety is called for in a recipe, take note. All of these recipes are specifically for green chiles. The heat and flavor vary tremendously. Most of the heat in a chile comes from the internal seeds and ribs. Take these out if you need less heat or if you don’t like their texture.

Chiles are more easily peeled if they are roasted first over an open flame or in the oven. The skins should be completely black. After roasting, place the chiles in a paper bag for a few minutes to let them steam, then slide off the skins under running water. Be sure that you keep your hands away from your face, especially your eyes, until you have finished handling the chiles and have thoroughly washed your hands. You may prefer to wear plastic gloves when preparing chiles. Or you may prefer to roast them in the traditional way, as described here. They can be canned or frozen after roasting.

New Mexico spoonbread

This recipe was developed by the New Mexico State University Cooperative Extension Service in Circular 396, entitled Chile. I am still trying to find an online copy, which I have not done yet, but I have turned up a number of other NMSU Cooperative Extension Service circulars on the subject of chile.

1 #300 can cream-style corn
1/3 cup melted shortening
2 eggs, slightly beaten
3/4 cup milk
1½ cups cornmeal
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar (very optional)
1 4-oz can chopped green chiles
1½ cups grated cheddar cheese

Mix all ingredients except chile and cheese. Pour half the batter in a greased 9”x9” pan, sprinkle with half the cheese and chiles. Add remaining batter and top with cheese and chile. Bake at 400* F for 45 minutes.

A little minced onion added to the batter is good, too.

From The Best from New Mexico Kitchens, by Sheila MacNiven Cameron .

{Tartan Girl points out that sugar has never been used in her years of baking this, the amount of green chile is a minimum (more is always better), and the onions can easily be omitted. Shirley, on the other hand, always puts a rounded teaspoon of sugar in because the sweetness emphasizes the taste of the chiles. You'll just have to experiment for yourself.}

Directions for seasoning cast iron
Cornbread of any variety generally cooks best in heavy, seasoned  cast-iron pans or skillets. This isn’t an historic family recipe, but it gives good advice for dealing with historic family cast iron ware. Iron skillets are the anchor for many of the older recipes and can be almost immortal if treated well.

Put pan in wood fire to burn off grease and rust. As it cools, use wire brush or plain steel wool to clean. Smear inside generously with cooking oil and let stand at room temperature for a couple of days. Wipe clean with paper towels. Fill pan with potato peelings and water. Heat to a boil and simmer about 1 hour. Wipe pan clean after rinsing in plain hot water. Rub inside of pan with oil. It should be cured and ready to use. After each use, scrape pan with a metal spatula. Clean with hot water only. Dry with paper towels. Smear oil on inside of pan with paper towels. NEVER USE SOAP.

Back to the recipes: Spoon bread is more like a casserole or pudding than like a standard bread. The name comes from the need to eat it with a spoon. This is a cornmeal preparation that goes back a very long way in America. This particular recipe is almost a cornmeal souffle. It has to be served immediately, hot, puffed and fresh.

Buttermilk spoon bread
2 cups stone-ground cornmeal
1 T sugar
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
2 ½ cups boiling water
¼ cup butter
2 eggs, separated
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/3 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup chopped green chiles

Combine cornmeal, sugar, salt and pepper. In a large heatproof bowl, combine boiling water and butter. As soon as butter is melted, whisk in cornmeal mixture and green chiles until no lumps remain. Cover and let cool to room temperature. Beat in egg yolks. Stir baking soda into buttermilk. When it begins to froth, stir into cornmeal mixture. Whip egg whites to soft peaks, then fold in lightly but thoroughly. Spoon batter into buttered 2 1/2 quart soufflé dish, then bake at 375* F for 45 to 50 minutes or until puffed and lightly browned. Rush to table and serve.

Corn stick pans go back to at least the 1920s. To give the sticks a nice crust, heat the greased pans first, then pour in the batter. Do not overfill the individual molds. These can be as plain or as fancy as you like; this recipe falls on the fancy side.

Regal cornsticks
1 cup flour
1 cup blue or yellow cornmeal
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar
½ tsp salt
¼ cup milk
½ cup green chiles
1 cup sour cream
2 eggs, well beaten
¼ cup honey
¼ cup melted butter or margarine

Grease cornstick pan generously. Combine flour, cornmeal, baking soda, salt, cream of tartar, and dill weed. In a separate bowl, combine milk, sour cream, eggs, honey and butter. Add quickly to dry ingredients. Stir to just mix. Fill cornstick wells. Place in 350* F oven and bake 20-25 minutes. Makes 16 cornsticks.

Happy Monday, happy fall.

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