What is the Battle of the Greasy Grass? If you ask a Lakota or other Plains Indians, the answer would be a tale of overwhelming victory for the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho against the US 7th Cavalry.
Some old timers refer to this battle as Custer’s Last Stand, while most simply know it as the Battle of the Little Bighorn. One hundred and forty-two years ago today, this famous battle raged along the banks of the Little Bighorn in what is now Montana. It was one of the final stands of the nomadic Plains Indians.
Years ago, Hubby and I made a vacation pilgrimage of sorts to visit some of the battlefield of the Plains Indian Wars. Of all the battlefields we visited, the most haunting was on the banks of the Little Bighorn. It is by far the largest monument to honor the dead soldiers of the Plains Indian Wars.
We made it a point to visit the site in mid-June to better capture feel of the day. It was muggy despite the a warm breeze that gently caressed the tall grass. A few black birds circled overhead, their dark bodies in beautiful contrast against a piercing blue sky. If you closed your eyes, you could hear the pop of gunfire, the shouts of confused men and the pounding of horses coming over the low ridge. The air smelled of sweat, gunpowder and warm blood soaking into the ground. Haunting.
So what does all this talk of battles have to do with all things cornmeal? The answer is nothing – and something.
General George Armstrong Custer died at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Autie, as he was known to his family and close friends, is reported to have had a fondness for Johnny Cakes. It was an appreciation Custer developed during the Civil War, or so the story goes. Johnny Cakes are a form of pancakes popular in the south made with cornmeal rather than flour. So now you have one-half of the cornmeal connection.
If you do a quick internet search (without investigating further), you will find a popular recipe for Sioux Indian Pudding. This too is made using cornmeal. While the pudding is interesting, it is not a traditional native dish. Native Americans had neither milk nor molasses to use in their cooking. Moreover; Lakota people were not farmers but rather hunters and gatherers who followed the migration of the bison. While cornfields exist on the American plains today, corn wasn’t growing in the wilds of Montana and the Dakotas. Still, the Sioux Indian Pudding is in keeping with the whole cornmeal thing. So work with me here, okay?
Autie Inspired Johnny-Cakes
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup boiling water
2 teaspoons honey
Shortening for frying cakes
Mix the cornmeal and salt together. Slowly add the boiling water to the cornmeal mixture. While the mixture is still hot, add the honey. Stir until just combined. Do not over-mix.
Warm a griddle or cast iron frying pan over medium heat. To check the pan, sprinkle a few drops of water over the surface. If the water “dances”, it is ready.
Spread a tablespoon of shortening in the warm pan. Place about ¼ cup of batter on the griddle.
After the edges dry, wait about 30 seconds and then flip the Johnny-cake over with a wide spatula.
Press the center of the Johnny-cake down with the spatula if needed. The second side does not take as long as the first to cook.
Remove the cooked Johnny-cake. Oil the griddle and begin again.
Serve warm with maple syrup, molasses, or butter.
Sioux Indian Pudding with Whipped Cream
3 cups milk
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup dark molasses
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Warm oven to 275 degrees. Butter a 1 quart baking dish. Set aside until ready to use.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook milk until bubbles form at edges. Slowly stir cornmeal and molasses into milk. Continue to cook and stir until thickened, 10 minutes. (Much like Cream of Wheat cereal).
Remove from heat and stir in sugar, salt, ginger and cinnamon. Pour into prepared dish.
Bake in warm oven for about 2 hours, until set. Serve warm without topping or cold with whipped cream.
Cinnamon Whipped Cream
1 Cup Heavy Cream
2 tablespoons Powdered Sugar
1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
To make the cream, place mixing bowl and whisk into the freezer for at least an hour. Once well chilled, pour heavy cream into the mixing bowl.
With the whisk attachment, whip cream until stiff peaks are just about to form. Beat in cinnamon and sugar until stiff peaks form. How long this process takes depends upon how cold the bowl, whisk and cream are when started. The colder, the better the results.