As I entered Peirce Mill, I didn’t expect to get a recipe for Old Fashioned Not-Sweet Corn Muffins. In fact, I really didn’t know what to expect. (Yes, I know the spelling Peirce is strange. It is pronounced the same as Pierce. I have no idea why the “e” and “i” are reversed.)
A few Saturdays ago, my beloved and I took a lovely walk in Rock Creek Park, near our home in Washington, DC. We stopped at the mill, a beautiful old building by the creek. I had been there years before, but couldn’t remember what was in the building or why it should interest me.
This time around, I had good reason to find Peirce Mill fascinating. For much of the past year, I’ve been immersed in colonial and post-Revolutionary War America. (My first book, The Hamilton Cookbook, will be published before Thanksgiving.) I’ve learned much about colonial-era history, cooking, and entertaining.
However, up until the visit to Peirce Mill, I knew almost nothing about how wheat, corn, and other grains got to the kitchen in 19th Century America.
The building houses a mid-19th Century mill. Designed by inventor Oliver Evans, the mill used an “automated” system to move grains from one part of the milling process to another. While this might not seem revolutionary now, it eliminated back-breaking labor previously part of the milling process. The mill building has three floors and there is milling equipment on all three. The process is laborious and time-consuming. It isn’t just about crushing the grain against heavy stones, aptly known as millstones. The grain also had to be sorted, bagged and in some cases, dried. The process took many hours and even with Evans’ invention, it was laborious.
The volunteers and staff at Peirce Mill are awesome. They demonstrate the mill in action and explain how it works with patience and good humor. They also know about the history of the mill and how it evolved from a working mill, to a tea house in the 20th Century, to an historic site today. I was so impressed that when I got home I joined the Friends of Peirce Mill. If you’re ever in Washington DC, you should definitely make a stop at the mill.
My video-editing skills leave a lot to be desired, but I couldn’t resist posting a short clip of how the central part of the milling process works.
As a bonus, Adam Siemenski, the president of Friends of Peirce Mill, gave me permission to blog about his wife Laurie’s cornmeal muffins, from a recipe in the Friends’ summer 2017 newsletter.
These corn muffins are delicious. They remind me of the cornbread Carla Hall describes in her piece for one of my favorite podcasts/radio shows, Dinner Party Download. The ingredients are different from those in Hall’s family recipes and this one is in the shape of muffins, not bread. However, both recipes yield a moist and decidedly not-sweet way to mop up gravy, eggs, or other savory dish.
Old Fashioned Not-Sweet Corn Muffins
These muffins take just minutes to prepare. They're perfect for mopping up gravy or eggs - or just about anything else.
- 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 cup milk, preferably whole
- 4 tablespoons melted butter or shortening, or vegetable oil
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease muffins tins. (I used paper liners and found that it would have been better to lightly spray those to prevent sticking. Spray may not be required with aluminum liners.)
Whisk together the dry ingredients and set them aside.
Mix the liquid ingredients together.
Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are combined.
Spoon the muffin batter into the tins and bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean.