|This recipe card is nearly 50 years old.|
The first time I got hungry for
cornbread after leaving home, I called my mother to get her recipe. She’d
learned to make it by watching her mother, and I doubt if Grandma Dale’s recipe
was ever written down. As Mama dictated the directions over the phone, I
knew I was in trouble. Just exactly how much is a little of this and a pinch of that? I needed precise
Could You Be More Precise?
After she worked out the amounts
of salt, soda and baking powder in terms of teaspoons, I could cope with adding
enough corn meal to about a cup of buttermilk to make a fairly thin batter. One
egg was a no-brainer, and the amount of bacon grease was easy because I
remembered how that rounded spoonful looked as it melted and sizzled in the hot
Yes, we eat bacon occasionally
because we espouse all things in
moderation where food is concerned. (Wright brand Hickory Smoked is our
favorite.) And although I use olive most
of the time—and sometimes canola or vegetable oil—cornbread and purple hull
peas just taste better with bacon drippings, so I keep some on hand.
|Close, but it could have been a little browner|
Mama’s cornbread had a crispy
brown bottom crust that was to die for. It took me a while, but I finally got
the timing and temperature basics down, which I think are the keys to the
sure the oven is hot—preheated to 400 degrees—before mixing ingredients or heating the bacon grease.
the bacon grease (or oil) is heating in an iron skillet on
medium high on top of the stove, mix the rest of the ingredients together.
the bacon grease starts to sizzle, pour it into the batter and stir quickly.
Immediately pour the mixture
back into the hot skillet and place it back on the burner (still turned to
5. Leave it until the mixture bubbles around the
edges and a few bubbles plop in the
center. (It doesn’t take long, so watch it carefully. Don’t multitask.)
the skillet to a hot oven and bake until the cornbread is golden brown (about
That stove top part can be tricky—leave it on the heat too long and the bottom gets scorched.
Take it off too soon, and you don’t get that nice crusty layer. It had been a
long time since I had made cornbread, and my latest batch wasn’t quite as brown
and crunchy as I like. (I think I had turned the heat down too low.) But that’s
better than scorched.
Mama’s recipe for this basic po’
farm folks’ staple didn’t call for flour, which meant her cornbread was a
little coarser in texture. Having grown up on it, I like it that way. But Terry
prefers a more tender version, so now I use a cornbread mix. (Mama never put
sugar in hers either, so I don’t, but I wouldn’t turn down a sweet
mix works just fine for me.|
Both my parents liked buttermilk,
so using it up was never a problem. In fact, Daddy often ate the leftover
cornbread with buttermilk the next day. But as we say in the Johnson house, it
didn’t look delicious to me, so I never acquired the taste. After throwing out
way too much buttermilk over the years, I started buying SACO cultured
Buttermilk Blend. The powder mixes with
water and works well in baking, plus it keeps a long time in the refrigerator. The
mix works just fine for me.
Practice Makes Perfect (Some of the time)
At first, every pan of cornbread
I made was an adventure, but eventually I was able to produce a fair version of
Mama’s. We don’t eat it often, but fresh vegetables, a pot of
ham and beans or soup call for cornbread. When I
stir it up, I always feel close to my mother—and a bit proud when it turns out
just right. Flipping it over so the brown crust is on top and cutting it into
triangles is a little like being home again.
I have to stop now and butter
my cornbread while it’s hot. Yeah, we slather ours with butter, too.
Do you have a cooking-lesson
story or a favorite recipe passed down from your mother?
Give her the fruit of her hands; and let
her works praise her in the gates. Proverbs 31:31
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Labels: Cooking, Cornbread Recipe, Family Memories