Grains – Introduction

The Indians harvested grass and grain by hitting the seeds with a stick over a basket. Then, they usually tapped and shook a bowl of seeds to bring the chaff to the top where it was burned with a torch. Alternatively, dry seed heads were set afire or the grain was stirred in a pot at a temperature high enough to parch the grain (see below) and burn the chaff to ash. Any grain, cracked grain, or meal can be eaten after soaking in cold water until swelled and then boiling until soft. The taste is better if husks are removed before cooking. Most grain can be cleaned by dumping into cold water where loose chaff floats. Small grains can also be soaked until soft, boiled, dried, and then coarsely ground and sifted for husk removal. Seeds can be coarsely ground with a mortar and pestle or with a flat rock and a stone.

All whole grains can be parched by frying or roasting (shake or stir to prevent burning) and are then edible without further cooking; intense heat causes grain to puff up because of steam pressure. Shelled corn can be parched in a frying pan, and corn nuts were a favorite of country children who did not have popcorn. The Indians parched dry corn in hot ashes. Parched grain can also be boiled in stew or ground and mixed with water; the paste can be boiled for porridge or fried for unleavened bread. Any cracked grain or meal (including oatmeal and corn-meal) tastes better and is more digestible after browning in a skillet or oven. The Indians soaked cracked corn and then boiled it with pumpkin, bean pods, or bean leaves; ashes were added for flavoring. Some Indians made a stiff dough of corn meal and water, molded it into balls, and baked the balls in hot ashes. Southeastern Indians preferred boiled bread: mix corn meal with a little wood ashes, hot mashed beans, pumpkin (optional), and enough boiling water to form balls; do not add salt. Drop the balls in boiling water until cooked. The Indians also sometimes cooked and dried ears of green corn; it could be eaten on the trail, cob and all, after soaking.

Early civilizations parched wheat for easy grinding and made porridge from the meal. Yeast bread was later made in Europe, but in other areas, porridge or unleavened bread is still preferred. The Egyptians ate unleavened bread and used it to make beer. The first Romans ate porridge, but there were 330 bakeries by the time of Augustus; for leaven, they mixed ground millet or bran with fermenting wine.

Later, in the U.S. bakeries supplied bread to city dwellers, but store-bought bread was not common in rural areas until 1930. Southern housewives made biscuits and cornbread daily.