Cornbread- A Southern Food Legacy of Native Americans
November is Native American Heritage Month. In the Tennessee River Valley, the influences of Native People are everywhere, from the names of the rivers and towns to the complex political and social history of the region. When white adventurers began their explorations as early as 1540, the Native Americans shared food with these early explorers, well in advance of the autumn “thanksgiving” feast with pilgrims in 1621.
As with the Plymouth Pilgrims, one of the great contributions of Native Americans to frontier settlers was the introduction to maize (corn) which would replace wheat flour and other grains more common in Europe in recipes. One of these recipes was for cornbread, traditionally as a Southern tradition. Native Americans were culinary experts using corn as a staple of their diets. From flat breads similar to tortillas to corn bread to porridge of grits, many indigenous recipes were adapted by European settlers to create modern day meals that are considered authentic southern cooking today. Catfish with hush puppies, cornbread and beans, and hoecakes are all contributions from the culture and heritage of Native Americans.
If you are in the Great Smoky Mountains, be sure to stop by the Old Mill to buy fresh ground cornmeal or grits or stop in Townsend at the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center to learn how the Cherokee ground corn on giant milling stones.