I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond on my own as a kid, but then had it spoiled for me by my school’s making it required reading. Nothing makes you hate a book more than having to sit through your classmates’ laboriously reading aloud one paragraph at a time while you’re forced to listen and keep track of where they are so you can take your turn. Bleh.
BUT, at least the book left one abiding pleasant memory– blueberry corn cake, which Hannah Tupper (a nice old lady who is later accused of being a witch) gives to Kit (a rebellious teenaged girl in Colonial Connecticut) to comfort her after a really tough day.
Hannah had set a wooden trencher on the table with a small corn cake studded with blueberries, and beside it a gourd filled with yellow goat’s milk. She sat watching as Kit ate, taking nothing herself. Probably, Kit thought too late, swallowing the last crumb, that was every bit of dinner she had!
I think that when I first read this, I was picturing a square of cornbread with blueberries stuck to the top– kind of like how you stud an orange with cloves by sticking them all over its surface– but I’ve since realized that the author was likely referring to a single cake with blueberries stirred into a cornmeal batter.
It would probably have been less sweet than a standard corn muffin given the expense of sugar at the time, and would have had a decently high proportion of cornmeal to white flour, again in light of the expense. I adapted a corn muffin recipe for this one and baked it in large ramekins– the idea of it being merely standard muffin-sized didn’t jibe with the idea that it would be the entirety of the woman’s dinner, even if she was supposed to be poor.
Blueberry Corn Cakes (adapted from Joy of Baking)
1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal (white or yellow)
1/3 cup sugar
1 tbs. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F, and spray ramekins or muffin tins with cooking spray (or butter).
2. In a large bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Gently stir in berries.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, and melted butter. It’ll help if the egg and milk aren’t cold (otherwise the butter will curdle up).
4. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
5. Fill ramekins with batter about 2/3 full and bake until a toothpick comes out clean– about 15-20 minutes.
6. Let cool in the ramekins on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before turning out to cool completely on the rack.
These turned out a bit flatter (and paler) than I’d expected– perhaps because my baking powder was pretty old and I was literally scraping the bottom of the can to get up to the scant tablespoon I managed to put into my batter. Maybe there just wasn’t enough lift to get them to rise properly? Also the fact that I used melted butter instead of oil probably made these a little drier than they would’ve been otherwise. And I’d have been happier if the blueberries had actually been tarter– as it was they were just kind of blandly sweet.
Despite my above complaints, these turned out fine and actually very much as I’d pictured the finished cakes would taste. So there’s that. I do like the extra texture and layer of flavor provided by cornmeal, and will definitely be adding some to my blueberry muffins in the future– however, if I made this recipe again I’d use oil, the full tablespoon of baking powder, and maybe a little lemon zest to add some zing.