One could presume that Mildred Ellen Orton, founder along with her husband of the Vermont County Store ate a lot of whole grains. Straight up (she died this year at the age of 99 years-old). And so it seems fitting that her 1951 (or 1947, depending on whether you go with the book jacket or Introduction) cookbook — pamphlet, really — Cooking with Wholegrains: The Basic Wholegrain Cookbook, has been re-released this week for those of us who could use a white bread sabbatical.
That whole grain cooking is hardly new in terms of flour's several thousand year history is obvious enough. But in today's world of glossy whole grain baking books with the obligatory cacao nib recipe somewhere in the mix, the idea of whole grain cooking before the 1970s conjures up images of Ancient Roman soldiers trekking across Europe with farro biscuits that can only be politely described as hearty.
Orton scoffs at this idea in Cooking With Wholegrains, where you'll find a brief history of grains, her rather insightful feelings on the new “enriched” refined white flours that were just gaining notoriety in the 1940s/50s (“this [white flour] enrichment program is at bottom a delusion and a deceit”) and an introduction by Deborah Madison.
The recipes are simple, with to-the-point instructions and no overly verbose introductory notes. It's the sort of book you flip through with historic culinary curiosity (meaning you take that salmon loaf made with canned salmon as more of an inspiration, using fresh ingredient substitutions where required). Nor is this a “soft” introduction to whole grain baking. Orton's French brioche and buttermilk roll recipes are 100% whole wheat affairs, not a lighter variation with a little white flour tossed in to fluff them up a bit.
In the “Quick Breads” section, Orton often combines cornmeal with whole wheat flour. Rye flour and soy flour show up in the “Muffins, Popovers and Crackers” section; “Luncheon and Supper Dishes” includes a ground beef casserole with homemade cracked wheat cereal (the obligatory mid-century poultry seasoning can be easily swapped out with fresh herbs and salt). For your whole grain dessert pleasure, there are numerous cookies and brownies, steamed puddings and cakes.
But it is this cornmeal gingerbread, no doubt an intriguing old-time texture combination, that will be making an appearance on our highly critical brunch table this weekend. Fitting, as criticism is just what we suspect a woman who references the empirical method in terms of hush puppies would expect.
Turn the page for the recipe…
Corn Meal Gingerbread
From: Cooking with Whole Grains by Mildred Ellen Orton
1 cup cornmeal
½ cup wheat flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon ginger
1 cup sour milk or buttermilk
½ cup molasses
4 tablespoons shortening
1. Heat the molasses; stir in the corn meal, shortening, salt and ginger; Cool. Add the milk.
2. Sift the whole wheat flour, measure, add soda and sift into batter. Add well beaten egg, then mix and beat thoroughly.
3. Pour into a shallow baking pan and bake 25 to 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Serve with whipped cream.