Cornmeal is central to hundreds of thousands of recipes. It’s used in cornbread, muffins, cookies, pancakes, johnnycakes, coating for fried fish, and a slew of other dishes I’ve both made and eaten without fully processing what was inside. Before coming across Cornmeal and Cheese Cakes in “Jamaican Cookery,” I had only thought of cornmeal in relation to porridge. It was solely created for the purpose of boiling in milk until thick, indicating its readiness to be drizzled with vanilla extract and condensed milk. It had never occurred to me that cornmeal was used outside of porridge, especially for savory dishes that incorporated beef or cheese. So, it’s safe to say I had a difficult time wrapping my head around cooking Cornmeal and Cheese Cakes, which didn’t call for milk but water and salt not sugar.
The process began similarly to porridge: boil the cornmeal on the stove and mix constantly until thick. But after that, everything changed. I was instructed to continue mixing while adding a cup of grated cheese and then to let it cool. Fun fact, leaving cornmeal in a cooling pot on a once hot stove will not help the cooling process. It took me 30 minutes of doing homework on the couch and then returning to a still warm pot to realize that. In order to move things along, I put the cornmeal in the fridge to cool, which then caused me to worry about all the bacteria potentially growing on and inside of it. But having tasted the mixture and quickly deciding savory cornmeal was not my thing, it didn’t really matter because the likelihood of the cakes getting eaten was slim.
After giving the cornmeal enough time to cool in the oven, I pulled the pot out and began patting the cornmeal into small cakes. They weren’t holding their shape well — which was extremely annoying — so when I went to fry them in oil many of the cakes turned into golden flakes. And while that sounds appealing, it wasn’t really the goal I had in mind. Luckily, enough survived to have a decent spread of Cornmeal and Cheese Cakes, which are now nicely tucked away in the back of my fridge.