Cornbread has been a staple food in the South for centuries, and also in the Manship household.  In 1877, fifteen year old Minnie Manship entered her best cornbread recipe at the state fair, and won first place.  By 1877, recipes for cornbread were similar to those of today.  Modern quick bread recipes are a result of the early nineteenth century discovery of chemical leavening agents such as pearlash and saleratus, that led up to the baking powder we use today.  Prior to the introduction of chemical leavening agents, sourdough or yeast, or the addition of beaten eggs were the common methods of incorporating air into baked goods.  The new chemical leavening agents reduced preparation time, but required an acid like sour milk or citrus to make baked goods texturally light.  Pearlash and saleratus had an unpleasant aftertaste and were soon replaced with baking soda and baking powder.  Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-Book, published in 1869, contains several recipes for cornbread with pearlash or saleratus as the leavening agent.

Sour Milk Corn Cake.

One quart of sour milk, or buttermilk.

A large teaspoonful of pearlash.

A teaspoonful of salt.

Stir the milk into the meal enough to make a stiff batter, over night.  In the morning, dissolve the pearlash in warm water.  Stir it up quickly, and bake it in shallow pans.  If the milk is sweet, it should be made sour by adding to it a teaspoonful of vinegar.

Corn Muffins (from the South).

One pint of sifted meal, and half a teaspoonful of salt.

Two tablespoonfuls of melted lard.

A teaspoonful of saleratus, in two great spoonfuls of hot water.

Wet the above with sour milk, as thick as for mush or hasty pudding, and bake in buttered rings on a buttered tin.