Or Indian meal bread, as it was known.

Skillet cornbread with honey butter by Founding Farmers / The Farm, on Flickr

Everyone is generally aware that the much of what is special in North American cooking in general, and American cooking in particular, was developed by Native Americans and shared with settlers. The greatest contribution was probably in the planting, harvesting, and use of corn.

(Or maize, as the Brits would say. In most English-speaking countries, corn is traditionally a term referring to any cereal grain. That’s changing, however, as American English overtakes British English as the global standard.)

In most cases, there is comparatively little record of how the Native American tribes cooked before European contact. One exception are the Zuni tribe of the Pueblo peoples, and that is largely due to the work of Frank Hamilton Cushing.

Cushing was an anthropologist who lived with the Zuni from 1879 to 1884 as part of an expedition for the National Museum. He was adopted as a Zuni warrior in 1881 and given the name Tenatsali, or medicine flower. When he left, he didn’t leave willingly; he was recalled to Washington, essentially because he spoke out on behalf of the Zuni when the government attempted to redraw the borders of the reservation unfavorably.

During his stay, he recorded his observations of Zuni life, including how they would harvest and prepare food, in a series of notebooks that would be published upon his return.

In one of those notebooks, Zuni Breadstuff, he mentions a meal of rabbit and cornbread, prepared the traditional Pueblo way:

The Indians now began to prepare our first meal. One of the rabbits they threw into the middle of the blazing fire, where almost instantly the hair and parts of the skin were singed off. When the carcass looked more like a cinder than the body of an animal, it was hauled forth, and with a few dextrous turns of Kesh’-pa-he’s hand, divested of its charred skin as a nut would be of its shuck–then dressed, spread out on a skewer, spitted, and set up slantingly, to take care of itself for a while before a thick bed of embers.

From the basket-bottle some water was poured into our cooking-pot, and when it had begun to boil violently, some coarse meal was briskly stirred in. Before this had become mush, while still sticky and quite thin, that is, some of it was poured out on a stone, some dry meal thoroughly kneaded into it, and the whole ingeniously wrapped or plastered around the end of a long stick. This stick, like the rabbit spit, was then set up slantingly over the coals and then occasionally turned until considerably swollen, and browned to a nicety. Behold a fine loaf of exceedingly well-done–and as I afterward found–also exceedingly good-tasting corn-bread!


From the box of A.D. from Lutz, Florida, by way of Pennsylvania in the 1940s, and originating in Ohio in the 1920s.


1-1/2 cups corn meal
1-1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. butter
1 egg

Mix thoroughly and add enough sweet milk to make a stiff batter. Pour into a pan and bake until brown.

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