I must be feeling bold because I'm about to disagree with James Beard. I just read Beard on Bread and was a bit dismayed with what he had to say about sourdough bread. He wrote: "Despite my own feeling that sourdough bread is much overrated and is difficult to perfect at home I am including one recipe in this collection because interest in the subject is so tremendous... I'm not sure it is worth the trouble." Difficult? Not worth the trouble? I wish I could have had the opportunity to convince him otherwise. Yes, making bread from a sourdough starter requires time and patience, and yes, the results vary depending on the strength of the starter, the weather, and the flour used, but it also seems a little like magic to make bread with such simple ingredients and a home-grown, living, wild yeast starter. With bread-baking, time means flavor, and nothing compares to the taste of slowly fermented and proofed sourdough. I could go on all day about my love of sourdough bread baking, and it's interesting to note that the one sourdough recipe Beard included in this book was made with a starter created from commercial yeast rather than being grown from wild yeast. But, the book is full of several interesting breads of other types. The pizza caccia nanza with pieces of sliced garlic and rosemary inserted in the dough before baking sounds delicious. Jane Grigson's walnut bread from southern Burgundy with onions, walnuts, and walnut oil is one I plan to try too. There are also quick breads, rolls, pita, doughnuts, biscuits, and monkey bread to name a few. So, there are many great things about this book even if Beard was completely wrong about sourdough.
One of those great things was the recipe for a rich cornbread. This was one of Beard's oldest bread recipes and one of his favorites. Not only is this cornbread filled with fresh corn kernels and chopped green chiles, there's grated cheese and a full cup of sour cream. Canned, chopped green chiles are suggested, but since I like to roast chiles, I made my own. I roasted two poblanos on top of the stove and then peeled, seeded, and chopped them. Then, kernels were cut from three ears of fresh corn, and a quarter pound of gruyere was grated. Making the bread couldn't be simpler since you just stir together yellow cornmeal, salt, baking powder, that full cup of sour cream, three quarters of a cup of melted butter, two eggs, the grated cheese, and chopped chiles. The mixture was baked in a nine inch square pan, and it browned nicely on top.
This is no typical, dry, crumbly cornbread. It was more of a meal in the form of cornbread with a tender crumb and lots of flavor and texture, but it was decadently delicious. I had lots of local, summer vegetables on hand like okra, tomatoes, black-eyed peas, and more corn, so I made a fresh, simple vegetable stew to accompany it. Beard might have been wrong to dismiss homemade sourdough, but clearly, he knew of some pretty good other breads.