“The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe
Date 1914. This painting is in the public domain.Corn in one form or several seems a natural at the Thanksgiving table. After all, it is one of the foods the Natives taught the Pilgrims to use, and they could make a rudimentary cornbread. In fact, a Smithsonian article quotes Willliam Bradford, Pilgrim leader, writing of that first Thanksgiving feast:
Having researched the matter, I’m convinced that my foremothers–from Pilgrims to mother and grandmother– when they donned their aprons at Thanksgiving, worked some corn into the menu. But those early Pilgrims could not have made this recipe–poor things. They had no dairy (no butter or cheese), no chiles, and probably did not have hen eggs. Forget baking powder, let alone a pyrex dish!
Although this is a modern recipe that I added to our Thanksgiving traditions, I still have the presence of other generations in my kitchen. Thinking about what kind of corn recipes they made. Heeding my mother’s hint about greasing the pans. Save the butter wrapper when you dump the butter in the mixing bowl, and wipe the buttery residue over the inside of the pan.
I’ve been making this particular cornbread recipe ever since the late 60s when I found it on the recipe pages of the Scottsdale Progress. Yes, there WERE newspaper pages totally devoted to food stories and recipes back then. During the 60s, somebody came to the conclusion that women were also interested in sports, the stock market and breaking news, and little by little the “Women’s pages” disappeared from the newspaper. (And now the newspaper itself has disappeared from Scottsdale.)
First to go was the Society Page, where all women were either Miss Smith or Mrs. Thomas Jones–as though they had no identity of their own. And the coverage ran to bridal stories that detailed what everyone in the wedding party wore–including the mother of the bride; reports on who was inviting whom to tea; and Hints from Heloise. I appreciated the new attitude toward women readers, but I would also have appreciated having my cake (recipes) and eating it too.
Feminist rant aside, I am grateful for the interview in the Progress with the chef of the then-new Hilton on Scottsdale Road at Lincoln Road. I have used the recipe he shared for what was called Corn Pie, Scottsdale Hilton, at many a potluck and family dinner since. It is one of those dishes whose absence is noted if I ever dare to neglect it at Thanksgiving time.
At that time, chefs in upper scale restaurants were just beginning to realize the benefits of incorporating Mexican ingredients, if not whole recipes, into their fancy menus, and stressing the Southwest. Corn pie sounded like tamale pie, hence the recipe name for what is really cornbread. I’m inclined to call it Killer Cornbread, with the subtitle–“The dish you never want your cardiologist to know you are eating.”