Shepherd of souls, refresh and bless thy chosen pilgrim flock
With manna in the wilderness, with water from the rock.
I love being asked to make new foods. So I was happy when the minister of our small church, Cara Hochhalter, asked me to create some manna for the kids’ time in the service recently.
Cara’s lectionary is smack dab in the middle of the book of Exodus. The Jews are wandering through the desert on their way to the Promised Land. When they complain of hunger, God provides them with food. Each morning they harvest and eat a mysterious, heavenly substance, which tends to melt if left in the sun too long.
In the words of the King James Bible, “And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna: and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.” The manna is also described as “a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground.”
Personally, I had always conceived of manna as a fairly fluffy food. After all, it was provided by God, who has a well developed sense of whimsy. (I have to admit that He—or She or maybe It–didn’t use that particular trait overly often when dealing with the Israelites, but they were definitely whiners, and whining can dampen even a deity’s spirits.)
So of course I compromised. My manna, as you can probably surmise from reading the recipe below, is simply crumbled up cornbread, sweetened with honey. The coriander in the formula pays tribute to the seeds the manna is supposed to resemble. The coriander also adds an appropriately Middle Eastern flavor. If you don’t have coriander (it turned out I didn’t, when I got ready to prepare my manna), cumin is a useful and tasty alternative.
This manna isn’t really white. On the other hand, if the ancient Hebrews were anything like me early in the morning, they weren’t paying too much attention to color as they gathered their manna.
If you don’t crumble it up, my manna has the advantage of going very well with a bowl of chili (Kosher, of course).
When I got to church with my basket of crumbs, the children were a bit skeptical of the manna I sprinkled into their open hands, but in general the recipe was a hit. Brady, the youngest and most vocal member of our small tribe, proclaimed it “scrumptious.”
The Israelites were said to grind the manna into cakes for eating in the desert. Cara used her verbal mill to transform my manna, and the story of the ancient manna, into a useful message for both children and adults.
She reminded us all that God instructed the Hebrews to harvest only as much manna as they could eat each day, a lesson to us all to be moderate in our consumption of food and in our use of the earth’s bounty in general.
Even more importantly, she held up the feeding of the starving Hebrew people as an example to humankind to be vigilant in feeding the hungry. This lesson is particularly striking in our current economic climate, when food banks such as the church’s own Good Neighbors program are straining to meet the needs of more and more families.
In that spirit, I urge readers who want to prepare this recipe to make a second batch to share with friends, neighbors, or even strangers—and to remember to buy a little something extra at least once a week to give to a food pantry.
Manna from Tinky
1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon coriander or cumin (dried powder or seeds; you may also use a chopped handful of fresh cilantro)
1 cup milk
1 egg, well beaten
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) sweet butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Generously butter an 8-inch square pan. (I used my 8-inch iron skillet, which makes great cornbread.)
In a bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and spice. Set aside.
In another bowl (I used a 2-cup measuring cup) vigorously whisk together the milk and egg; then whisk in the honey and the melted butter. The honey will try to settle in the bottom, but its laziness can be vanquished with persistent whisking.
Whisk the liquid into the dry ingredients, and spread them in the prepared pan.
Bake until the edges of the bread look light brown and the center is solid (about 30 minutes). If you want authentic-looking manna, crumble the bread into tiny pieces; if not, slice it. Serves 8.