The August Surprise (also known as the land hurricane) derailed the column I would have written last month. The challenge of making an interesting meal on an open flame during a power outage was of little interest.
I saw many folks at the store whose countenances and grocery carts indicated they were much better set for the camping lifestyle than we were. I was grateful for the potlucks that erupted on my street after the communal work of cutting limbs and toting logs. I saw a lot of consideration and patience during a very stressful time.
Did you see the stars that first night? Such a huge, bright array in an utterly dark sky. It was a comforting gift amid the shock and sadness.
When the power came back, I restocked the fridge and returned to cooking. One of the dishes I’d had on my mind was a rustic, cornmeal-based cake made with late summer peaches and plums.
And, since I have the cornmeal out on the counter, why not share a recipe for cornbread? The way I make it is how my mother made it. Baked in a cast iron skillet in a very hot oven, the bread develops a substantially crispy crust. One trick is to preheat the pan with a little oil. When you pour in the batter, you should hear a little sizzle when the batter meets the hot oil.
Cornbread varies from one family or one region to the next. I love to try any that are made from scratch, but the boxed mixes just won’t do. The cornmeal we used came from our homegrown corn that was taken to a mill and ground into a semi-coarse texture.
Cooler evenings and early sunsets are just right for turning on the oven to bake something warm and comforting, like a pan of cornbread. Although the storm delayed the arrival of these recipes, you can still find plums at the store.
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The daily reminders of Aug. 10 will be with us for a long time. The ragged skyline. The owls I no longer hear. What I hope to keep are the reminders of blessings and the sense of community that burned brightly — like the stars did — on my street and all over this city.
Cornmeal Cake with Late Season Fruit
This was the cake I had on my mind during the aftermath of the derecho. I found some Iowa-grown peaches at the grocery store. Though small, they had the concentrated flavor of late-season fruit. Most of this cake’s sweetness comes from the fruit itself, but the final drizzle of honey adds a rustic touch. More moist and dense than fluffy, this is a cake to scoop on a plate and top with lots of whipped cream.
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup unbleached flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
5 small plums and or peaches, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons butter or oil for baking pan
2 to 3 tablespoons honey
Whipped cream for serving
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease a glass or ceramic deep-dish pie pan.
In a large bowl, beat eggs, sugar, olive oil, buttermilk and almond extract. Add cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda, stirring until everything is incorporated.
Pour into prepared baking dish. Arrange sliced fruit in the batter. Place in oven and bake for about 35 minutes, or until the top of cake is firm and it gets brown around the edges.
Remove from oven and drizzle 2 to 3 tablespoons honey over the top of the cake. Spoon onto a plate and top with whipped cream.
Source: Lisa Williams