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More Cornbread


When my friend Tommy Sue offered corn light bread* that she’d baked the day before, I was skeptical and almost chose a commercial bun that came with the carry out barbeque supper. “If you don’t want a bun, here’s some corn light bread I made yesterday.” Cold corn bread? The only way my mother served cold cornbread was crumbled into a glass of milk and eaten with a spoon, which was Sunday night supper. I went along with my girlfriends who also sat around Tommy Sue’s dining room table and I laid a piece of her homemade bread, baked in a loaf pan and sliced like banana bread, on my plate. Slathered with soft butter, it was delicious.

During dinner we college girlfriends discussed how we make and bake cornbread differently. We agreed that it is usually baked in a black skillet and in a hot oven, but Tommy Sue’s mother baked cornbread in a loaf pan and often served it cold. We realized that we bake cornbread like our mothers did. Blondie’s mother told her to remember 2, 2, and 2. *  Two cups of cornmeal, 2 eggs, and 2 cups of buttermilk. Heat ¼ cup oil in a black skillet in a 450° F oven and pour about half the oil in the batter, stir well, and watch the batter sizzle when it’s poured into the skillet.

Jo Ann’s family had milk cows and no milk was ever wasted so her mother used the old milk, no-longer-good-for-drinking-milk, to make cornbread. After baking, she turned the bread onto her tiled countertop and covered it with the skillet until the middle was soft. Friend Alicia learned to heat ½ cup oil in a black skillet and drop spoonfuls of thick batter into the skillet allowing the oil to bubble around each spoonful. After baking, the spoonful-size portions break apart easily. All of us agreed that the best cornbread was baked in hot bacon drippings. Our mothers kept a jar or small crock close to the stove to pour bacon grease into and that was used for cornbread and to season vegetables.

Kathy’s mother always baked plain cornbread to serve with pinto beans, and she made Mexican cornbread to serve with vegetable soup. The mention of Mexican cornbread started a whole new topic. Broccoli Cornbread* is made with Jiffy cornbread mix, butter, eggs, cottage cheese, onions, and chopped frozen broccoli and baked in a 9 x 13 pan. There’s Creamed Corn Cornbread, Zucchini cornbread, and Green Chili Cornbread. I googled cornbread recipes and got 3,950,000 results. That’s more varieties of cornbread than there are black skillets!

After the first column about cornbread, readers have shared their stories. Tricia’s mother was born and raised in Ohio and her Sunday night supper was a one-pan meal. She cooked pork sausage – either patties or crumbled – and then poured cornbread batter into the hot skillet and baked it. Seems like this should be a good Southern dish. I’ve heard about hush puppies, cornbread dressing, spoon bread, hoecakes, Johnny cakes, hot water cornbread, cornbread salad, vegetable spoon bread, and crackling cornbread.

This cornbread saga may not be ended yet. There may be yet another cornbread story.

*Recipes posted http://susanrray.com






Hot Cornbread




Once again at Farmer’s Market, there are fresh green beans to be broken and cooked with a slab of thick bacon.  There’s yellow crookneck squash to slice, sprinkle with salt, roll in cornmeal and fry.  There’s nothing quite as good as summer vegetables, except the cornbread that goes with them.


Mom was a good cook.  Just before Husband and I married she told me, “Here’s what you do.  Set the table every night.  Even if supper is leftovers, your family knows that you’re making supper.  And serve hot bread.”   Mom’s bread was usually cornbread.  When I was about 9 years old, making cornbread was my supper chore.  Two cups of Martha White self-rising cornmeal, one beaten egg, and enough buttermilk to make the batter just right.  Stir with a wooden spoon.


Mom’s cornbread skillet didn’t have a handle – it had broken off.  That skillet was used only for baking cornbread.  She turned the oven to 425° F, put a couple of spoonfuls of bacon grease in the skillet, and both skillet and grease got hot while I stirred the batter.  Mom poured about half of the hot grease into the cornbread batter, and I gave it one last stir and dumped it into the hot skillet.  But my chore wasn’t done.  The cornbread bowl had to be washed immediately.  If not, the batter dried and stuck like glue to the bowl.  More than once, I didn’t wash the bowl and after supper, Mom washed the dishes and I dried them, and then I had to scrub the cornbread bowl.


The cornbread baked for twenty minutes and came out of the oven with a golden brown crust just as Mom called Dad, my brother, and me to the supper table.  She turned the bread onto a dinner plate and it was the only food we were allowed to have on our plates before the prayer.  Mom cut the cornbread into wedges, put a piece on everyone’s plate, and we slathered it with butter, then Dad said the blessing.  Sometimes I’d eat my first piece of cornbread before even filling my plate with meat and vegetables.  And if I didn’t like anything else for supper, I’d fill up on cornbread and milk.


Mom’s cornbread recipe never changed, but sometimes she fried hoecakes and sometimes she baked corn sticks and muffins.  On hot summer days when she didn’t want the oven heat, she dropped spoonfuls of the batter into a black skillet on top of the stove and fried hoecakes.  My favorite was the corn sticks.  Thin, crunchy sticks of cornbread with browned crust with every bite.   I didn’t keep up with Mom’s cornbread skillet, but I have the black iron corn stick and muffin pans.


I made Mom’s basic cornbread recipe for years.  Then I discovered Corn Light Bread, made with cornmeal, flour, sugar, buttermilk, and an egg.  Sweet, finer textured cornbread.  When my Grand, Louise, was four years old, she proclaimed it, “The best bread ever!”  She may be right.


I know that there are many cornbread recipes, and that’s a column for another day. Right now, I’ve got a mess of Roma green beans cooking, squash ready to fry, and I’m stirring up some of the best bread ever to bake in Mom’s corn stick and muffin pans.  A fine summertime supper.