Complete dinner with cornbread variations

Published 11:59 pm Friday, October 2, 2009

Cornbread recipes are plentiful in the south and there are as many different recipes as there are good cooks in the south. What is better on a cold winter night than a bowl of chili and a big square of cornbread? My father would crumble up cornbread in a glass of buttermilk for a light supper; I never did that, but I sure did love my mother’s hot cornbread cooked in a cast iron skillet.

Actually, cornbread has a long history in North America. Native Americans ground corn centuries ago and mixed it with water or eggs to create a dense, flat bread that traveled well and lasted a long time. The Indians called their breads suppone and appone and pone became the term in the South for cornmeal bread. Modern flavorings add buttermilk, seasonings and leavening which makes the cornbread recipes lighter and more flavorful. It is fun to experiment with different ingredients like apples or hot peppers. I believe that Tommy Gerlach makes a great jalapeño cornbread, and Michele has toasted the bread to make great croutons. At least we heard that Tommy thought they were great.

Sour-milk cornbread is one of those quintessential foods of the South for which again there are hundreds of recipes. Traditionally milk that had started to culture was used in cornbread and other baked goods, both for its pleasant sharp taste and for a leavening boost (its acids react with baking soda to generate carbon dioxide). Since modern pasteurized milk does not sour nicely; it just goes bad; buttermilk is generally used. You can make a quick sour milk by stirring 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and 2 teaspoons of cider vinegar into 1 ¾ cup milk. In 10 minutes it will curdle and you will have sour milk.

Edna Lewis has a great recipe for sour milk cornbread in her book, “The Gift of Southern Cooking.” This cornbread is good slathered with butter and honey, and this was the only cornbread she used for cornbread stuffing.

Sour-Milk Cornbread

Serves 6-8

1 ½ cups fine-ground white cornmeal

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 ¾ cups soured milk or buttermilk

2 eggs lightly beaten

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Mix the cornmeal, salt and baking powder together in a bowl. Stir the milk into the beaten eggs, and pour over the dry ingredients in batches, stirring vigorously to make a smooth glossy batter.

Cut the butter into pieces and pour it in a 10-inch cast iron skillet or baking pan. Put the skillet in the preheated oven, and heat until the butter is melted and foaming. Remove from the oven, and swirl the butter all around the skillet to coat the bottoms and sides thoroughly. Pour the remaining melted butter into the cornbread batter, and stir well until the butter is absorbed into the batter. Turn the batter into the heated skillet, and put in the oven to bake for 30-40 minutes, until cornbread is golden brown and crusty on top and pulls away from the sides of the skillet.

Remove the skillet from the oven and turn the cornbread out onto a plate. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before cutting into wedges. Serve the cornbread while it is hot.

This is a recipe for skillet cornbread which is a favorite in the South.

Skillet Cornbread

Makes 6 servings

2 cups yellow cornmeal

1 cup all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

¾ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 large egg, beaten

1 ½ cups milk

2-3 tablespoons bacon grease or shortening

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder salt and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add the egg and milk and mix well. Do not beat.

Heat the bacon grease or shortening in a 9-inch skillet, preferable cast iron, over medium-high heat until it is almost smoking. Pour in the batter and cook for two to three minutes, or until the edges begin to turn golden.

Place the skillet in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown.

Let cool for a few minutes before slicing to serve.

The following is a little change from regular cornbread:

Cheddar Cheese Cornbread

Makes 6-8 servings

1 cup buttermilk

1/3 cup corn oil

3 eggs

1 ½ cups white cornmeal

1 ½ teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 (12 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained

3 tablespoons half and half

1 small onion, chopped

1 small red bell pepper, chopped

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan. Mix together the first three ingredients in a large bowl.

Combine the cornmeal, baking powder, salt and baking soda and add to the buttermilk mixture.

Stir together the corn and half-and half and add to the batter. Mix in the onion, bell pepper and sugar. Pour half of the batter in into the baking pan. Top with the cheese. Pour in the remaining batter. Bake until cornbread is springy to the touch, about 40 minutes.

I was introduced to spoonbread in Colonial Williamsburg when we lived in Virginia. I love spoon bread and often make it for our Thanksgiving meal. Foodways, Volumn 7 of the New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, calls spoonbread “perhaps the highest culinary attainment of cornbread.” The Indians had a porridge which may be the ancestor of spoonbread, but southerners did not add butter, milk, and eggs until after the Civil War. The term first appeared in print until 1906 and is more common in the Upper South.

Spoon Cornbread

2 cups water

1 cup white cornmeal

1 cup milk

1 tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

Mix the water and the cornmeal and bring slowly to the boiling point.

Cook five minutes.

Add the milk, butter, salt and well-beaten eggs. Beat thoroughly and bake in a well-greased pan for 25 minutes at 350 degrees.

Serve from the same dish with a spoon.