Kneeldown Bread

kneel down bread

kneeldown bread

from: Harry Hoijer, and Edward Sapir. Navaho Texts. By Edward Sapir. Navaho & Eng, 1942.

Some of it, while it is still wet, they shell. Cutting off (the kernels), they then grind it. They build a fire. When the fire has heated (the ground), they push the earth aside. And then, the corn that is ground is wrapped in corn leaves and put in the ground. Then it is covered (with earth) and a fire is again built over it. And then, after a time, it is uncovered and taken out. “That which kneels down” it is called. (Translation by Albert Sandoval, 1930)

Here are the basics:

Also known as Navajo tamales, kneel down bread is baked in a corn husk. It used to be made in bulk after the corn harvest and stored over the winter like a hard cracker. One old recipe reads as follows:  “Scrape the kernels from fresh corn cobs and grind on a metate until mushy. Wrap in several layers of corn husks. Place in the ashes of a wood fire and cover with fresh corn husks or leaves to seal in the heat and steam. Cover with a layer of moist dirt, then a layer of hot coals. Stoke a small fire over all the layers and bake the breads about 1 hour. Remove the packets from the ash pit, peel off the husks, and eat hot.”

This is kneeldown bread adapted to a modern inside stove/oven:

1. Husk the corn, reserving the husks for wrapping. Using a sharp knife, cut the kernels. off the cob. Scrape down the cob with the dull side of the blade to release the corn milk. In a food processor, grind the kernels to a mush. Add the lard, water, and salt, and process just enough to make a paste. (note by site administrator: Traditionally, there was no lard added. Adding of lard was introduced for the first time by the Spaniards, until then even the Aztecs, who made countless varieties of tamales, did not use lard) 

kneeldown bread recipe

2. Divide the mixture into equal portions. To fill the husks, lay out the husk so that the natural curl faces up to enclose the filling. Spoon the filling lengthwise into the center of the husk. Using strips of husks, tie both ends to enclose the filling. Gently bend the bread in half to tie the two ends together. Wrap each bread in aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

4. Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake for 1 hour, or until breads are firm to the touch. Serve hot. Store in the refrigerator up to 5 days.

 From: Breads of the Southwest: Recipes in the Native American, Spanish, and Mexican Traditions, by Beth Hensperger. 1997: Chronicle Books: San Francisco, CA

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