Abraham Lincoln’s Corn Meal ‘Rail Splitters’

Lincoln rail splitters
Presidents’ Day, celebrated today, started to honor George Washington. Since Abraham Lincoln’s birthday was February 12, he also receives special homage in February. Since I’m still making recipes from the1860s, I found a Lincoln-inspired recipe for “rail splitters” in The President’s Cookbook, by Poppy Cannon and Patricia Brooks (1968).

A portrait for Lincoln's 1860 campaign. Source: Chicago History Museum

A portrait for Lincoln’s 1860 campaign. Source: Chicago History Museum

Lincoln’s background as a lawyer raised in a log cabin figured prominently in his political biography as he campaigned for the Presidential nomination in 1860. At the national convention, a cousin went to the backwoods Illinois home where Lincoln was raised and brought in a fence rail that Lincoln had indeed cut with a sign proclaiming “Abe Lincoln the Rail Splitter.” The tactic to glorify Lincoln’s humble background worked, and Lincoln won the nomination.

This rustic recipe for corn muffins is named in Lincoln’s honor. I don’t have a cornbread-stick pan, so I used muffin tins instead. The batter, with its mix of acidic buttermilk and baking soda, foamed up like a science experiment, but it baked into tender, if crumbly muffins that Abe might have eaten for breakfast back in the day. Below is my adaptation of The President’s Cookbook recipe.

Lincoln rail splitters 2Rail Splitters (1860)
(Makes 12 muffins or 24 cornbread sticks)

1 cup flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 egg
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup yellow corn meal
4 tablespoons melted shortening, slightly cooled [I used butter]
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in 1 teaspoon cold water

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a cornbread-stick pan or 12 muffin tins.
  2. In a small bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the egg. Add the sugar, salt and corn meal. Mix together and add the shortening. Mix again, add the buttermilk, and stir to combine.
  4. Add the baking soda/water mixture to the batter, followed by the flour mixture. Stir until well combined.
  5. If using a cornbread-stick pan, heat to the sizzling point. Pour in the batter. If using muffin tins, fill each cup approximately 3/4 full.
  6. Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Serve hot with “gobs of butter on top.”
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About heritagerecipebox

I am named after my great-grandmother, who only prepared two dishes, according to anyone who remembers: hamburgers shaped like squares and peanut butter sandwiches. Fast forward 100 years and 500 miles north from my hometown of Richmond, Virginia to Boston, Massachusetts. Somehow, I ended up with a cooking gene as well as an interest in history and family stories. I have worked as a journalist and published three cookbooks plus a memoir. This blog gives me a chance to share family recipes and stories -- and other American recipes with a past. What do you have to share?
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