Yesterday I shared the book The Worst Hard Times with you. I’ve been continuing to think about the book a lot. Of course, this led to me thinking about the food that existed during that time period and scenario.
I think that food says a lot about people, cultures, resources available, and history. It’s interesting to look at people’s food preferences, try new dishes, play around with combinations of ingredients that seem outrageous in concept. I also think it can be extremely insightful and useful to be able to adopt a certain perspective or lifestyle by sampling a dish. Which is why I made cornmeal porridge.
So I’ll admit-I’m a fan of the texture of foods that you might find popular with people who eat at Luby’s. I love mashed potatoes, oatmeal, pancakes soggy with maple syrup…you get the point. I like foods that some might term ‘mushy’. When I did a little research on foods available in the 1930’s to residents of the dust bowl and found cornmeal mush, I wasn’t intimidated.
Cornmeal mush or porridge was a food that was versatile in the sense that it could be eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And it was utilized for all three meals because in some instances, corn meal and various scraps of food were all that these families had access to. Breakfast might have been cornmeal topped with a dollop of canned fruit or jam, lunch might have been cornmeal topped with a smidgen of meat or a little bit of butter, and dinner may have been cornmeal topped with rabbit. Essentially, people ate what they had access to. Although I love certain foods, I can’t imagine eating something for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day without a choice for months on end.
I didn’t eat cornmeal porridge for all three meals at any point this week, but I did make the porridge and found myself transported to a time not too far from this one, in a place not far at all from where I live. As I stirred the porridge, I tried to imagine myself as a woman living in the dust bowl, using various home remedies and cleaning solutions in attempts to clean tiny homesteads, stirring porridge for husbands weary from fruitless days out farming and children bedridden with coughs. When I sampled the porridge, I tried to savor the taste in my mouth as one that represented sustenance and nutrition in a world where neighbors starved, animals chewed on salted tumbleweed, and the nation supported a politician that toted the slogan that no man would go without bread, butter, bacon, or beans if he was elected. If that doesn’t show you how hungry the nation was, I don’t know what would.
Overall, I think that this cornmeal porridge represents the resourcefulness, stamina, and grueling lifestyle of those who resided in the dust bowl. After reading The Worst Hard Times, I found it really interesting to transport myself to the culture present in the book by sampling the food that the citizens of the dust bowl ate for every meal, if they were lucky. So if you find yourself reading the novel, or just want to sample cornmeal porridge in an attempt to immerse yourself in history, here’s the recipe!
1 cup cornmeal
4 cups water (separated)
1. Pour 2 cups of water into a pot and bring to a boil on the stovetop.
2. In a medium sized bowl, mix one cup of water with one cup of cornmeal.
3. When the water on the stovetop reaches a boil, mix in the cornmeal mixture. Let boil for a couple minutes and then turn heat to low.
4. Stir over low heat until porridge reaches thick consistency. If the porridge becomes too thick, use the extra cup of water in increments to achieve desired consistency. Stir on low for at least ten minutes before serving.
I topped my porridge with strawberry preserves. For breakfast, feel free to top with syrup, jam, or molasses if you really want to emulate a dust bowl meal. For a more savory meal, crumble bacon or ham on top and add a small spoonful of butter to the mixture.