Blue corn and juniper ash
There I was, scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, attempting to find posts of interest, share a positive quote or two, the heart-toughing moment of an animal being rescued, and enjoy that post that gives you laughter right from the belly.
Of course, I enjoy reading the foodie posts with recipes that I would not touch with a fork, literally, and desserts that make my sugar soar just looking at the photos.
One popped up from the admin, Pauline Haines, from a favorite page, Navajo and Pueblo Cooking. It showed blue corn cakes, which included juniper ash.
Ash, in a cake? Oh, I had to know more about this.
She and several others explained how the branches from junipers (trees or shrubs dependent on the altitude) are burned, sifted, and the ash collected. The ash adds calcium, magnesium and Vitamin A to the diet and is mainly used for baking. It intensifies the coloring of blue corn meal.
The book Wild Plants and Native Peoples of the Four Corners by William W. Dunmire and Gail D. Tierney has a section on the juniper. Found among the pinion pines of the Colorado Plateau is the juniper, which happens to be of the Cypress family.
An evergreen whose needles (leaves), branches and berries have various uses – medicinal, culinary, household, and ceremonial.
Traditional sweathouses were constructed with juniper wood, and the bark was floor covering.
Now I have used sage myself for indigestion, but the Hopi added juniper. This mixture dates back to Ancestral Puebloan times, proven with residue found in coprolites (that is poop in layman’s terms).
For creating dye, the Navajo boiled together leaves, twigs, and berries to produce a yellow, orange, or tan coloring. Juniper leaf ash was used to fix (mordant) other colors, so they would not run or fade.
Oh, I could go on and on about the uses for juniper, but I have a better idea, buy the book!
I just happened to have all the ingredients for the cake, except for the juniper ash.
Looking online, I found Shima (shimaofnavajoland.com/) ,and here is their mission statement: “We are artists, farmers, protectors of our precious and sacred way of life on the Navajo Nation in the Four Corners of the Southwest and the land of our ancestors. The land of our shimas.
“We are growing sovereignty and self-reliance with each bar of soap, every bag of stone-ground cornmeal, every spoon of juniper ash, and every jar of honey. Help us protect the precious. Share in the sacred with us.”
Part of Good Shepherd Mission, and the Episcopal Church, Shima is associated locally with San Juan County – St. Christopher’s Mission in Bluff.
Receiving my order very quickly, happily off to the kitchen I went to play.
The recipe can give you two 8" x 8" cakes or one 9" x 13". I chose the latter and frosted half of it with cream cheese frosting.
One of the Facebook members suggested adding cinnamon to the mix; the smell while baking was intoxicating!
After cooling came the tasting. It was slightly moist, yet tender and very akin to red velvet cake, but blue in color. The half with frosting was very good also, but I suggest just a smear of frosting, or the cake itself gets drowned out.
“Seriously,” you’re asking, “how can a cake made with blue corn meal be as good as red velvet?”
Let me put it this way, “Hunny, put down the fork. Hunny, hunny, stop eating the cake. Hunny, you’re going to get sick. Yes, I know it’s good, but stop!”
That was me talking with my husband, and he’s not a huge fan of cake.
Blue Corn Cake
(Recipe by Pauline Haines – Navajo and Pueblo Cooking Facebook Admin)
1 and ½ cups flour (Blue Bird, of course); 1 cup roasted blue corn meal; 1 and ½ tsp. baking powder; 1 tsp. juniper ash; 1 cup sugar (Truvia Baking Blend works too); 1 cup vegetable oil; 3 eggs; 1 cup milk
Optional: Add 1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon (thanks for the suggestion Lisa Bellison)
Preheat oven to 400F. (I used a non-stick baking pan, or spray with nonstick baking spray)
Mix together all ingredients until smooth, pour into baking pan. Bake for 20 minutes. (Did the toothpick test, and it is perfectly timed.)
(Personal note here: I shifted all the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Otherwise my cakes come out with floury lumps, so it has become a habit to shift all the dry first. I then whisked the oil, eggs, and milk in a small bowl before adding to the dry ingredients.)
Cream Cheese Frosting (this is a basic recipe)
8 oz. heavy whipping cream; 8 oz. cream cheese, softened; ½ tsp. vanilla extract; 3 Tbsp. powdered sugar
In a cold, metal bowl, whip the cream until firm. Add cream cheese and whip until smooth. Add vanilla and powdered sugar, whip until thoroughly incorporated.
Makes enough frosting for two 8" x 8" cakes or one 9" x 13" cake.
Going to a social gathering, potluck, or any event that you want to bring a dessert to? Make this cake, but do not tell anyone what it is until it is all gone.
It will be all gone, and everyone will be pleasantly surprised at what your creation was. Be prepared to give out the recipe. Enjoy!