In my Kindergarten student teaching placement, we have been studying corn as a way to address the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. It is a complicated issue to talk about in a classroom, as there are clearly multiple perspectives to cover and so many politics to maneuver. The inaccurate mythology and historical omissions can be confusing and damaging to teach, especially when you get into the denser and more confrontational issues surrounding genocide and land theft. As an educator working for social justice, how do you make sure you cover the valuable positive and big ideas of gratitude, fairness, equality, resistance, and liberation without miscommunicating the true facts? I’ve always felt trapped in how I would like to cover this material – and have often found that it is much easier to just avoid talking about it altogether in the classroom. However, Kindergartners get so excited about holidays that you have to incorporate it somehow into the curriculum.
I really like the critical way my cooperating teacher thinks about these issues, and her solution this year has been to teach the students all about corn. She can teach them about the Native Americans’ history growing and eating corn in different forms, and about how the Pilgrims interacted with the Native Americans and their land when they arrived in the “new world”. We have had class discussions about how the Native Americans lived and how that contrasted with the lifestyle that the Pilgrims were used to, and how both were very different from how our students live today. We have talked about what it would feel like if someone moved into your backyard, and had the kids think about how they would react to this. We shared about the communities and customs that both groups of people had, and the reasons why the Pilgrims were leaving Europe. We framed these conversations around the kinds of foods the two groups of people were used to eating, tying in our larger theme of corn. My cooperating teacher has brought in many different examples of corn for the students to study as Scientists with huge magnifying glasses – we’ve looked at dried “Indian Corn” in beautiful shades of purple, yellow, and red; baby corns in a jar; dried corn kernels; cornmeal; canned corn; and hominy. We’ve had them taste different kinds of corn-foods, like corn chips, corn nuts, popcorn, and even candy made with corn syrup. Yesterday, I woke up obscenely early for no good reason, and decided what would make me feel better about this lack of sleep was to bake something for my class. So, out came the baking pans and on went the oven (a perfect way to warm up my chilly house!). I quickly whipped up a batch of Cornmeal Muffins that I could give the students, who would then get to taste the corn in a new way.
I brought the muffins in to the classroom, and while they were not overwhelmingly popular with the five year olds, they received good reviews from the adults who tried them before and after the sharing event. I wasn’t sure what reaction to expect from my students, since kids these days eat lots of sugar and Cornmeal Muffins aren’t particularly sweet, but I really wanted them to be able to feel the slightly crunchy texture of the cornmeal in the muffin and the softer sweeter fresh kernels of corn mixed in. In the end, some of the children devoured the muffins, some did not, and I of course felt okay about that. I think this recipe is quite delicious, but perhaps not the most kid-friendly one that I could have picked! Perhaps they would have enjoyed them more with jam spread on top, or with more sugar added to the batter. The muffins were moist and heavy, as a cornmeal muffin should be. The top was crispy and the color was a natural bright yellow from all the corn. I recommend it, even if my students did not!
Cornmeal Muffins – lightly adapted from The Joy of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau
1/2 cup coarse yellow cornmeal
1 tsp. salt, divided
1 cup almond milk
1 1/2 tsp. Ener-G Egg Replacer (equivalent of 1 egg – you can also use 1 Tblsp. ground flax seed)
1 Tblsp. warm water (+ 1 more Tblsp. of water if you use flax seeds…)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar + some for sprinkling on top
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/3 cup Earth Balance or other non-dairy margarine, melted and cooled
1 cup canned whole corn kernels
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease or line your muffin tins.
Soak the cornmeal and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt in the milk for about 15 minutes, while you prepare your other ingredients.
Meanwhile, whip the egg replacer (or flax seed) with the water in the blender, until thick and creamy.
In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
In a small bowl, stir together the almond milk/cornmeal mixture, melted margarine, and egg replacer mixture until combined. Add to the dry ingredients, and stir just until blended. Add the corn kernels and stir to combine. Do not overmix.
Let the batter sit for 10 minutes before spooning into the prepared muffin tins, filling each cup about 3/4 full.
Sprinkle a pinch of sugar on top of each muffin (this will give it a nice crispy top, and add a little touch of sweetness).
Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool in the tins for 5 minutes, then remove to cool on a wire rack.