Happy Accidents

By , November 26, 2019

As Thanksgiving approaches, I’ve learned to cook seasonally appropriate meals. That way, all the side dishes we crave especially at the harvest season don’t need to get crammed into one day or meal, when the barest essentials of a turkey dinner more than fill our stomachs and the table.

At this time of year, especially, I enjoy making dishes that, if possible, are even more rustic and old-fashioned than our normal fare.

Like, for instance, cornbread.


A culinary mistake, which we could barely choke down, as you can see what’s left after two meals (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

I had just made a family favorite soup, pumpkin, with half of a white pumpkin. I decided, at the last minute, to whip up a skillet of cornbread to accompany it.

I don’t quite have our recipe memorized, but I make it often enough that some of the preparation has become automatic.

Perhaps too automatic?

Without much thought, I whipped up the batter. I did pay attention to ensure I added both baking powder, and baking soda; I forgot the soda in a recent batch, so that loaf didn’t plump up as well as we’re used to.

The cornbread I made this week didn’t quite plump up as well either, but seemed normal in all other respects. Until I tasted it . . . .

As I often do, I ate my dinner before Michelle got home. I noticed that the cornbread tasted different. I assumed this was because of whatever had been cooked in the cast iron pan previously. It was good—delicious, in fact! I decided to wait and see if Michelle noticed the difference before I mentioned it to her that evening.

She did notice the difference, and asked a single question, which made me realize immediately what I’d done wrong.

Instead of a cup of cornmeal, which the recipe specifies, I’d grabbed the nutritional yeast, also known as “brewer’s” yeast from the shelf, and added a cup of it, instead.

cornmeal vs. nutritional yeast

In my defense: cornmeal (l) nutritional yeast (r). The difference can be subtle, but I should have known better (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

It was a big mistake, not to say bad one. The resulting loaf, while not cornbread, strictly speaking, tasted really good!

One of the reasons we adore this cornbread recipe is that it’s so easy to augment it with whatever we care to throw into the batter: diced onions, grated cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and now, nutritional yeast! We just don’t need quite as much, obviously . . . .

We learned years ago of Julia Child’s motto, which teaches: Never apologize, never explain. Just rename the dish and carry on.

I’m not sure what to call this bread, and don’t intend to make it again, but at the rate it’s disappearing, it’ll be a brief yet happy gustatory memory we’ll recall for years to come.

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