Food History and Recipe: Hominy Muffins (Rufus Estes, 1911)

On the left, the cover from the first edition of Estes's book; on the right, a later edition with the misnomer that Rufus was the first African-American cookbook writer.

On the left, the cover from the first edition of Estes’s book; on the right, a later edition with the misnomer that Rufus was the first African-American cookbook writer.

Despite recent misinformation regarding Rufus Estes (he was, in fact not the first African-American cookbook writer, but he was the first African-American railway cookbook writer), this recipe for hominy muffins, as well as the life and occupation of its author, provides a fascinating snapshot of the social and cultural associations attached to hominy during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

At the beginning of this book, Good Things to Eat, As Suggested by Rufus, Rufus Estes provides a bit of biographic information. He was born a slave in Murray County, Tennessee, in 1857. During the war, Estes’s older brothers joined the North, leaving him to help his mother with the cooking. After the war, and the loss of two of his brothers, Rufus took on even more of the kitchen duties, preparing meals for his family. After cultivating his culinary skills in both the Nashville and Chicago restaurant industries, in 1883, he went to work for the Pullman Railroad service, where he served as a head cook for the next for fourteen years. Thus began his life as a railway cook who through his tenure would service some of the most prominent people of this day–United States Presidents Grover Cleveland and William Henry Harrison, the singer Adelina Patti, and Infanta Eulalia of Spain. He indicates that the idea for this book came from some of his patron-friends, and that the book itself represents “the labor of years.”

Interior of a Pullman dining car.

Interior of a Pullman dining car.

Hominy is a central ingredient in this recipe, yet there is no recipe for hominy in this book. While we now have the option of buying it canned from the grocery store, Rufus would have made from scratch, using either fresh hominy or canned (jarred). This absence is conspicuous for two reasons. First, most readers would either have known how to make hominy, or, more likely, their kitchen maids would have. Outside of Native communities, the most widespread hominy practices called for boiling dried kernels for several hours in a large iron kettle with woodash or woodash lye. Second, like some of the other recipes in this book (green tomato soup, for one), it is unlikely hominy muffins were ever made for the wealthy patrons who stayed in Pullman cars–hominy was not considered fine dining. Instead, this recipe was likely one from his life away from the railway industry.

Here, I’ve provided two recipes for hominy muffins–the first is from Rufus’s book, Good Things to Eat, As Suggested by Rufusand the second an updated version of the recipe from the L.A. Times.

Hominy Muffins (Rufus Estes)

Sift twice together one and one-half cups of flour, three level tablespoons of baking powder, one level boiled hominy and two tablespoons of melted butter and one cup of milk. Add to the dry ingredients and beat, then add two well beaten eggs. Pour the batter into two well greased gem pans and bake.

Hominy Muffins (L.A. Times)

Total time: about 40 minutes

Servings: 10 muffins (or 30 mini-muffins)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 c. flour (wheat)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 c. drained, canned hominy
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter, plus additional for greasing the muffin pans
  • 1 c. milk, preferably whole cream-style
  • 2 eggs, beaten

Preparation:

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-muffin pan (or enough mini-muffin pans for 30 mini-muffins) and set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together the hominy, butter, and milk. Whisk in the eggs and the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients just until combined.

Fill the greased muffin pans three-fourths full with batter and place in the oven. Bake the muffins until golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean; about 25 minutes for standard muffins. The muffins will keep for 3 to 5 days, stored in a sealed plastic bag at room temperature.

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