Today, I am making cornbread with blue corn meal and Hopi culinary ash—this is in no way a traditional Hopi recipe. I was unable to find any recipes online for making this bread. The first reason for this is that culinary ash is almost impossible to come by outside of the Hopi reservation, so I am adapting my own cornbread recipe to the new ingredients.
A second reason for there being no online recipes is that baked cornbread is not a dish that most—if any—Hopi would actually make. Cooking fuel was too scarce in the Southwest to bake things in an oven. The traditional Hopi method for making bread was/still is to spread a watery dough over a hot “piki stone” to make paper-thin sheets of piki bread, which are then rolled up before they have cooled completely. A piki stone is a wide, smooth, thin, flat stone and are usually passed down from mother to daughter for generations.
Culinary ash is used to turn the blue corn meal a bright blue—without it the blue cornmeal in your finished dish comes out an unappealing blue-grey. The addition of the ash also adds vital trace nutrients to the Hopi diet. The Hopi burn chamisa branches to make their ash for this purpose—the Navaho burn juniper branches for the same purposes. While you may substitute baking soda to get the color of the corn meal to change to blue, it will not taste the same or have the same nutritional value.
Note: There are several plants and herbs used in making Hopi culinary ash—besides chamisa—but you will never find out which ones, unless you follow a grandmother out collecting them to make more ash—like my wife and daughter did and they are sworn to secrecy.
One other change I made was to replace the sugar in my original recipe. Wife Jan is on the Noom program and sugar is a “red food” to be minimized in your recipes. I chose to use agave syrup—while very sweet it is much lower on the glycemic index than sugar (17 vs. 63).
Karl’s Blue Cornbread with Chilies
1 heaping Tbs. culinary ash
¾ cup boiling water (see instructions step 2)
1½ cups blue corn flour
½ cup AP flour
1 Tbs. baking powder
½ tsp. Kosher salt
4 Tbs. butter, separate uses
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup low-fat milk
1½ Tbs. blue agave syrup
1 can (4 oz.) of diced green chilies
1. Place your cast iron skillet in the oven and preheat it to 400° F.
2. Put the culinary ash in a measuring cup and add ¾ cup of boiling water.
Note: After leaching the nutrients out of the ashes you will be decanting a quarter of a cup of the liquid to add to your cornbread mix. You can do this by letting the ashes settle and carefully pouring off the clear liquid at the top into a second cup—leaving the ashes behind. I found it necessary to do this twice to remove most of the ashes. You may also pour the liquid through cheese cloth to remove the ashes.
3. Let the ashes steep for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and decant one quarter cup of the ash water.
4. Whisk the corn flour, AP flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large mixing bowl.
5. Melt the butter in a Pyrex measuring cup—about 30 seconds in the microwave—and set it aside to cool slightly.
6. Put the egg in a two cup measuring cup and scramble them well with a fork/whisk.
7. Add the milk, agave and one quarter cup of the ash water to the eggs and whisk the wet ingredients together.
8. Whisk 3 tablespoons of the melted butter into the wet ingredients.
Note: The last tablespoon of butter will be used to grease the pan that is in the oven.
9. Make a well in the dry ingredients by pulling them to the sides of the bowl.
10. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk gently to combine them.
Tip: You want to make sure that there are no dry pockets of cornmeal, but you do not want to over beat the mix. This would create too much gluten, giving you a tough cornbread.
11. Fold the green chilies into the batter.
12. Remove the pan from the oven and brush the remaining melted butter all over the bottom and sides of the cast iron skillet.
13. Pour the cornbread batter into the skillet and bake for about 30 minutes.
Tip: Check for doneness by inserting a toothpick in the center. If it comes out clean it is done.
14. Serve with butter and honey.