Milling around

marcia townsend’s lemon cornmeal cake

Handed-down family recipes are like patchwork quilts. They contain little pieces of everyone who has cooked them, their tweaks and additions or subtractions, but still make a beautiful whole.

Marcia Townsend of Raleigh told me that her winning dish for the cornmeal cook-off at Yates Mill in Raleigh is one of those creations that started with an old recipe, then she added her own touches. In this case, she increased the amount of cornmeal, which gave the cake extra texture.

The contest was held as part of the harvest celebration at the restored mill, which is more than 250 years old. The mill works, and produces some mighty fine cornmeal.

Here is Townsend’s recipe.

Lemon Cornmeal Cake

1 1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup yellow cornmeal

3/4 cup sugar

3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

2 eggs

3 tablespoons finely grated lemon peel

3/4 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled


1 1/2 cups sifted confectioners sugar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch cake pan. Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt, then whisk to blend. In a separate bowl, combine buttermilk, eggs, lemon peel, vanilla and butter. Whisk to combine.

Use a spatula to gently fold the liquid mixture into the dry mixture until just blended; do not stir.

Place batter into prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes. Invert the cake immediately onto a cooling rack and invert once again to a serving plate so that the cake is right side up. Combine the Glaze ingredients until smooth. Drop by tablespoons full onto the top of the cake and spread until it is 1/2 inch from the edges of the cake.

Serves 8