Necromancy. Dead magic. The prophecy of the exhumed body. Every time I bake, it feels like I'm communing with my past, a wayward child that's running too fast for his own feet. Simple simmering, trying to remember the last time I just sat or ate something healthy. Gentle boiling, trying to remember if my grandmother's name was Norma or Lily. Patiently waiting, trying to remember when the last time I hugged someone.
This week it felt like a dark moon hung over San Antonio. I felt a sort of reverse-gravity in the pit of my stomach. The air was thinner, the sunlight hit asphalt in garish hues of motor oil that looked like blood. Tasted it in my mouth. I bit my lip too hard. I bit my tongue more than once. It made me feel shaky and I couldn't fall asleep, I kept hearing car alarms and wailing trains in the distance. It used to be coyotes.
Necromancy. When an ex-boyfriend comes back into your life and he isn't so much a ghost as he is a warm body. A warm body that feels rotten and you can't quite place his presence anywhere. Uncomfortable, the same sense of nausea you felt when you overheard at your grandmother's funeral, "The mortician did a good job with the make-up." (Her name was Ruth). He shouldn't be here in the new life.
Necromancy. The tangy smell of jam on burnt toast. How easily we remember things through smell. How some flowers smell like carrion and it attracts insects with hummingbird wings. It all looks so perfect until you start to breathe. I remember three smells from my childhood: my mother's Dr. Pepper chapstick, the foam on the top of the Diet Cokes I'd pour for my dad, and hot cast iron with its burn crisps of old corn bread stuck on the edges.
This week I kicked the wall in my bathroom because I ran out of things to say. I wasn't sorry for it. I went to Home Depot and spend $17. It's a large splotch of grey where my foot caved in. I couldn't find the words to describe all the anger I had, built up over five years. I broke a wall with my foot and there's still bits of plaster stuck to the sole of my shoe. Every step is a little dustier, small motes of my anger trail after me onto the tile at work. They settle into the hardwood floor of my apartment, into scratches where we pushed the couch on its side and it left long marks a half inch deep. A nail that stuck out of the leg, bent at an angle. "It could have poked your eye out."
This week I brought memories back to life, a form of magic through baking. The shamanism of sense memory and mixing bowls. The smell of old fruit, blackberries I picked from bramble on my uncle's farm. Burnt cornbread on the stovetop to cool. A large glass of Diet Coke that hisses as the carbonation dies. I used to shuck the corn for dinner, put the silk in a Wal-mart plastic bag for the chickens. I made a cake with these kind of memories, this brand of necromancy.
Cornmeal Cake with Sweet Corn Topping and Quick Berry Jam
Ingredients for the Cake:
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, and 1/4 cup for sprinkling
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 2 large eggs
- 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus some to grease skillet
Ingredients for the Sweet Corn Topping:
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2 ears of corn, kernels cut and cobs whole
- 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
- 2 teaspoon vanilla
Ingredients for the Quick Berry Jam
- 1 pint blackberries
- 1 pint raspberries
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons clover honey
- 1 lemon, zested and juiced
- 1/4 teaspoon dried lavender
- Sachet of gelatin
- pinch of salt
- The night before, heat cream and corn kernels and cob in a saucepan. Allow to simmer for four minutes. Let steep overnight.
- Further, make the jam by macerating berries in sugar and honey and allowing to stand in a saucepan for ten minutes.
- Bring mixture to a simmer, berries will break and slowly release their juices. Allow to simmer for 12 minutes.
- Add lemon juice and zest and lavender. Stir gentle and continue to simmer.
- In a small bowl, pour in gelatin. Add 2 tablespoons of water to gelatin and allow to bloom for six minutes. Once stiffened, spoon into jam and stir gently to break down the bloom.
- Take off heat and allow to rest for several minutes (it will start to thicken). When a little cooled, place in a heatproof container and refrigerate overnight.
- When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 10-inch cast iron skillet and set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar.
- In another bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter.
- Pour over flour mixture, whisking to combine.
Pour batter into skillet and bake 45 minutes on middle rack
While cake bakes, strain cream mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer. Discard corn remnants. Whip cream on medium-high until peaks form. Add remaining topping ingredients. Set aside.
Allow cake to cool and then invert.
Assemble cake by adding a layer of jam, and top with the whipped cream mixture.
Think about home while eating it and enjoy.
I want to finally give a shout-out to Kristyn over at Laite Atelier for no other reason than she has been a wonderful, interesting, and talented person I met this week.