cover image The Cornbread Gospels

The Cornbread Gospels

Crescent Dragonwagon. Workman Publishing, $14.95 (379pp) ISBN 978-0-7611-1916-6

This surprising, eccentric volume is full of curious anecdotes, history and cornbread lore, from tales of the Native Americans teaching Pilgrims to make cornbread, to stories of slaves living on little but ""ash cakes,"" corn patties baked in the ashes of a fire. Most intriguing (and delicious) are the recipes themselves, which span the globe to find the happy taste of cornmeal in dozens of novel incarnations. Vermont Maple-Sweetened Cornbread is a classic, a medium-sweet skilletful of steaming yellow bread that makes a wonderful companion to baked beans or a mellow soup. Savory Onion-Scallion Corn Cakes are a spicy variation on the theme, livened up with a fresh green chile. Many recipes are for cornbread accompaniments, like a Golden Gazpacho that turns garden vegetables and lots of corn into an all-American version of the Spanish soup, and Patsy's Cornbread Salad, which mixes chunks of tomato, bacon and onion with cornbread for a Southern take on the Italian bread salad called panzanella. The most exciting corn-themed dishes come from less expected places: the labor-intensive but phenomenally flavorful Sancocho is a South American stew, and African Vegetable Mafe is dense with peanut butter and sauteed vegetables, perfect for sopping up.