In earlier times the disease pellagra was more prevalent. Pellagra is a niacin vitamin deficiency disease that effects the digestive system, nerves and skin.We learned about it in my Junior High Health class in Kansas the 1960’s. It is especially prevalent where poor nutrition is the norm. Diets high in maize that is not ash treated could result in this condition, especially where fresh fruits and vegetables are not available. This was more common in our country in the Great Depression.

Corn, or maize as it is also called, needs to be processed in order to release some of its wonderful nutrients. Its nutrition is locked up in indigestible proteins. To unlock these we need only learn to use ‘ash cooking’. The extra benefit is it helps clean out your liver and stomach too.

*When making cornbread add a pinch of clean hardwood ashes to the cornmeal and proceed with something sour like buttermilk or sour milk. Leave out the salt when cooking corn. Baking soda works well here. This also helps blue colored corns remain blue when cooked.

I prepare my own ashes by selecting clean hard wood like oak, maple, or hickory. I thoroughly clean out my woodstove. Then I make a good hot fire of the hardwood, burning it all the way to ashes. I let these cool down and sift them through a fine mesh sifter, saving the ashes. I store mine in a well labeled canning jar with sealed lid next to my baking soda and baking powder in my kitchen. This way I remember to use ‘a pinch of ash’ in all my corn baking recipes, as I was not raised to learn to cook with these and I sometimes automatically forget to add the ash! My quart jar has lasted me more than 2 years now too.

*When cooking dried corn, soak the seeds in a solution of water at least overnight with Calcium carbonate, or sodium hydrate (lye) or sodium bicarbonate(baking soda)….these will make forms of hominy and grits. Tortillas are made with this process. [that ‘trace of lime’ on the ingredients is not the lime citrus fruit!] Real lye is very caustic so be wise with its use. Get some instructions! Hominy is made by soaking off the paricarp, the outside layer of the seed coat of the kernel. This process makes corn easier to chew, and easier to digest, and still delicious.

Blue CornbreadI grew up loving yellow and white hominy with butter and salt, but I’m new at making it, as ours always came out of a can at my Kansas Grandma’s house.

A really beautiful cornbread made with ashes and baking soda can be made with Cherokee White Eagle Dent Blue Corn. It keeps its color very well and there is never any left over!

Dianna Snow Eagle 2012