Updated: Aug 30, 2022
If you’ve been following my blog, then by now you know that I grew up in the Four Corners area of Southwest Colorado. A region steeped in rich history and culture that has a whole host of culinary delights you won’t find anywhere else in the world. One of those delights is blue corn mush.
In an average American kitchen, it would be closest to Cream of Wheat or perhaps Malt-O-Meal. To the New Mexican pallet, the closet dish would be chaquehue ( or chaquewa, the jury is out on the spelling.) To the Mexican foody, it would be closest to atole, in that they are both made with blue cornmeal, however, atole is a drink as opposed to porridge.
When I was a child my grandmother served what she called Chaquehue for breakfast almost every morning and I found a few recipes online, like this one from Grapey’s Grub. But none of the recipes I found matched my grandmother's which was simply ground blue corn meal, and a dab of lard thrown into boiling water and stirred until a porridge formed. Then it was served warm with as much sugar you liked.
As I grew up and moved on in the world I forgot all about this dish until one day while sitting in my kitchen in San Diego I was overcome with a sudden craving. That lead to a rabbit hole of research trying to figure out the history of the dish and how I was going to get my hands on blue corn meal which I had never seen outside of the Four Corners region.
But during my research, I stumbled upon the Navajo equivalent, known simply as blue corn mush. Dating back centuries and still served today this dish is so important to the Tribe that the correct preparation of it is actually part of the Miss Navajo Nation pageant. Keep in mind, that there are more detailed ways of preparing this dish, but the recipe below is simple, easy to follow, and only has 3 ingredients.
My heritage is Spanish, Mexican, Navajo, and Apache, and the older I get, the more I feel a kinship to those native ties. And the more I reflect on my past, the more I realize that a lot of traditions that were held growing up in my family are more closely related to tribal ones, vs. Spanish or Mexican ones.
Ash in My Mouth
But, I digress, this article is about the food! The primary difference between other blue corn dishes and blue corn mush is the addition of juniper ash. Yes, ash as in burnt wood. Hear me out. A single gram of juniper ash contains about as much calcium as a glass of milk an important factor when you consider that many Navajo people are lactose intolerant.
Aside from adding valuable nutrients to the Navajo diet, there’s some additional food science behind its addition to blue corn dishes. According to Gastro Obscura, “Juniper ash is an alkaline substance, and exposing it to corn initiates a process called “nixtamalization.” Nixtamalization breaks down the outer shell of the corn, not only enhancing flavor, but increasing the amount of absorbable calcium, niacin, and vitamin B3.”
If you’re a fan of porridge, oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, or in general love a warm comforting bowl of breakfast food, I highly encourage you to try this one. After my first bowl, I never looked back and it’s a common breakfast in my home.
Finding the Ingredients
If you live outside of the Southwest region, blue corn and juniper ash may be a little harder to find, particularly since the blue corn sold in the Four Corners region is Blue Corn Meal “Harina.” or more commonly the above shown Harina De Atole which is made here in Colorado. Similar to “Masa Harina” the dried corn is actually soaked in a lime-juice solution before being ground into a meal. This makes the corn kernels swell while the outer husk loosens and separates from the kernel. Harina also tends to be ground to a finer texture than regular cornmeal. However, I believe Bob’s Redmill offers ground blue corn that should be readily available at most natural grocers, and the link above gives instructions on using it as a substitution in recipes. As for the Juniper Ash, I always buy it from Blue Corn Custom Designs on Etsy (not an affiliate link.)
Navajo Blue Corn Mush
Yields: 2 servings
½ cup roasted blue cornmeal
½ teaspoon juniper ash
2 cups cold water (more or less depending on desired consistency)
2 - 3 Tbls sugar (to taste)
Optional toppings – honey or agave (omit the sugar), chia seeds, nuts, fruits, or berries
In a medium-sized bowl mix the blue cornmeal and ash until evenly distributed and set aside.
Place cold water in a medium pot and slowly add the cornmeal/ash mixture while whisking.
Cook pot on medium-high whisking continuously until fully combined and lump-free- approximately 3 minutes.
Let simmer for another 5 minutes stirring occasionally.
Stir in sugar, remove from heat, and serve with any toppings you like.
Let me know if you try this traditional Navajo breakfast, and tell me about it in the comments! Until next time,