Friday, February 21, 2014

Malawi’s ancient (chikondamoyo) bread of life offerings

Borrowed delicious oven baked  US cornbread photo  not connected to this write-up from
It’s late in the middle of the night around 2 am and a young female priestess centuries ago dreams of a male hand holding cornbread locally known as chikondamoyo  (loves life) and then breaking it in half.

In the middle she sees some black stuff in between locally known as mchewere but suspected to be black millet in English and yellow strings from sweet bananas.

These types of visions are said to have indicated the need to make an offering to Chauta, Namalenga, Mphambe (God) known as the giver of life, the said traditional cornbread or cakes but locally made from local maize flour and not using yeast.

Other offerings included mapira (sorghum) and traditional maize beer like kabanga, masese and so many other types and palm wine like uchema.

Now the chikondamoyo cornbread whom some refer to as African bread is called chigumu by others when banana is added but those in the know how can share with this blog other names. It still eaten in townships and villages.

Chikondamoyo is prepared with whole maize flour known as mgaiwa which some online spell as ngaiwa and it’s like whole ground dry maize or the whole corn kernel.

The local bananas are believed to have made it sweet and these days those without ovens prepare it on a charcoal burner locally known as mbaula and cover the lid of the pot with charcoal so that it bakes with heat on top and the charcoal burning below.

This blog is yet to found out how the ancestors of this land made it using an open fire or maybe a traditional oven?
American cornbread internet photo
These are different from whole maize flour fritters known as zitumbuwa and traditional banana bread known as chimimina.

According to some Malawian women they only use bicarbonate soda when preparing chikondamoyo to soften it and not yeast to make it rise.
Other internet sources including Malawi – Technology Adoption and Risk Initiative Household Baseline Survey 2006 define the black millet known as mchewere as bulrush or pearl millet.

In his book ‘Insects and Human Life’, Brian Morris writes that hybrid maize has a softer husk than Malawi’s local maize locally known as chimanga chamakolo….in other words the one the ancestors used.

But this blog has not yet established how far back thechimanga chamakolo existed in Malawi.
Black millet photo from the internet

Various online sources describe cornbread as the most of “the South’s beloved dishes” in the US and adds that it has roots that run deep, all the way back to Native Americans who dried and ground corn into cornmeal.
“Cornbread is a cornerstone of American food tradition,” says Erin O’Shea, chef of Percy Street Barbecue in Philadelphia online. “Our first bread made without yeast.”
“Native American cornbread was simple, just cornmeal and water cooked on hot flat rocks in the fire and often called ash cake. But its identity changed as cornbread was introduced to early settlers and spread around the country.”
The unofficial Wikipedia defines cornbread as a generic name for any number of quick breads containing cornmeal. They are usually leavened by baking powder.

Native Americans were using ground corn (maize) for food thousands of years before European explorers arrived in the New World. European settlers, especially those who resided in the southern English colonies, learned the original recipes and processes for corn dishes from the CherokeeChickasawChoctaw, and Creek, and soon they devised recipes for using cornmeal in breads similar to those made of grains available in Europe.

“Cornbread has been called a “cornerstone” of Southern United States cuisine. Cornmeal is produced by grinding dry raw corn grains. A coarser meal(compare flour) made from corn is grits. Grits are produced by soaking raw corn grains in hot water containing calcium hydroxide (the alkaline salt), which loosens the grain hulls (bran) and increases the nutritional value of the product (by increasing available niacin and available amino acids).

“These are separated by washing and flotation in water, and the now softened slightly swelled grains are called hominy. Hominy, posolein Spanish, also is ground into masa harina for tamales and tortillas). This ancient Native American technology has been named nixtamalization.  Besides cornbread, Native Americans used corn to make numerous other dishes from the familiar hominy grits to alcoholic beverages (such as Andeanchicha),” further reads the unofficial Wikipedia.
Black Sorghum photo
from the internet

A slightly different variety, cooked in a simple baking dish, is associated with northern US cuisine; it tends to be sweeter and lighter than southern-style cornbread; the batter for northern-style cornbread is very similar to and sometimes interchangeable with that of a corn muffin.

“A typical contemporary northern U.S. cornbread recipe contains half wheat flour, half cornmeal, milk or buttermilkeggsleavening agentsalt, and usually sugar, resulting in a bread that is somewhat lighter and sweeter than the traditional southern version. In the border states and parts of the Upper South, a cross between the two traditions is known as “light cornbread.”

“Unlike fried variants of cornbread, baked cornbread is a quick bread that is dependent on an egg-based protein matrix for its structure (though the addition of wheat flour adds gluten to increase its cohesiveness). The baking process gelatinizes the starch in the cornmeal, but still often leaves some hard starch to give the finished product a distinctive sandiness not typical of breads made from other grains.
Black millet photo from the internet

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Took this picture of children in Milange, Mozambique admiring visiting Malawian children

Tracing footsteps to lead me home

Greetings from the Warm Heart Africa, Malawi.

I'm a Malawian journalist who grew up in many countries including South Africa, Belgium, then West Germany, UK, Washington DC and New York in the US and I love New York.

Trying to come up with the production of my life and by compiling some of my 1000 poems into a book called ‘Tracing Footsteps’ to lead me Home with excellent photography.

I also plan to film award winning documentaries based on the history of this ancient land called Malawi and the mysteries of Sapitwa and the Sirius star. this space.