In cornbread, there is life lesson

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 2, 2012

It is often simple things — for example making cornbread — that teach powerful lessons. Combine white corn meal, a bit of salt, flour and water. Mix well, then drop by spoonfuls into hot oil and watch perfect pieces of cornbread turn golden brown.

Today after I mixed and as I waited for each side to brown, I drifted to the kitchen of my childhood and the sight of Mother standing at the stove frying cornbread. The smell of hot grease and peas cooking on the back burner filled the kitchen.

I loved to sneak a warm piece of cornbread before dinner was ready. I’d eat around the edges first, crunching the crispy part before sinking my teeth into the soft center.

When I got old enough to start learning to cook, the art of frying perfect cornbread was one of my first lessons. I learned there is a thin line between too much and not enough water in the mix. Too much water and there is no soft center to enjoy when it’s fried. Too little water and it’s all soft and possibly a bit gooey tasting.

There is also a delicate balance to the cooking itself. Fry it too long and delicious golden brown becomes dark brown, slightly burned-tasting edges. Too little frying and the soft middle is a bit raw.

I thought about how Mother taught me to fry cornbread as I flipped each piece today, watching them come out perfect and yummy, just right to enjoy with the pot of rutabagas I cooked. It occurred to me that learning the art of living a good life is a little like cooking great cornbread.

First, you discover something you enjoy and want to know more about or something you want to learn to do. Then you find someone who knows how to do it and if you are smart, you observe this master, like I did when I watched my mother. Then you ask that person to share what they know with you, and you pay attention, listening to what he or she has to teach you.

Next, you try it on your own; always open to hearing from your teacher what you are doing right and what you might want to change. Then you practice.

You mix and fry cornbread until you get the feel for how it comes together. You know the correct amount of meal, flour, salt and water by instinct. It’s the same way in life. You learn to mix your effort with the right amount of trusting what you know is true for you.

With practice, you know when the oil is hot enough to add the exact amount of the cornmeal mix to create the right-sized piece of bread. And, you sense exactly how long to let it cook on one side, when to flip it over and when to take the piece out of the frying pan.

Isn’t that what we need to learn to do with most of our efforts — know when the time is right to act, take the best action we know, then step back and let things progress to their natural outcome.

You know you can’t rush cornbread. You have to pay attention so you don’t skip a step in the mixing or start frying before the right time. If you hurry, you miss out on some mighty good eating

You can’t rush through life, either, because if you don’t pay attention and hurry with everything you do, you miss out on the joy of being alive.

Wow, who knew what important lessons I learned in my mother’s kitchen as she taught me the art of cornbread frying. Wonder about what I learned when she taught me to make sweet tea…