Southern delicacy to be state bread

Published 12:05 am Saturday, March 22, 2014

This week – after the Alabama legislature addressed abortion, bestiality and loosened gun laws – they got down to something really important.

They began the process of naming an official state bread when the House of Representatives passed a resolution this week.

Cornbread, they say, adding that it is a “distinguishing landmark of Alabama cuisine,” that became a staple in Southern homes when wheat flour became more expensive than cornmeal.

While acknowledging that it can be made into fluffy breads, Johnny cakes, deep fried hoe cakes, loaves, sticks or muffins, and can “enhance a variety of meals,” “it is best enjoyed alone or crumbed into a tall glass of cold buttermilk and consumed with a spoon while sitting on the porch watching the sun go down,” according to the resolution.

The “truly Alabama version” should be made by heating bacon drippings, lard or other oil in a heavy, well-seasoned cast iron skillet, then pouring the batter into the hot grease and returning it to the oven to make into a moist cake with a browned, crunchy crust.

“Real cornbread, that which is made and served in the correct manner to preserve its unique heritage, is truly deserving of recognition as a delicacy in Alabama,” the resolution says.

Oh, how I wish my grandmother could return to Earth and cook up a pan to illustrate the point. Hers was not a sweet cornbread, but more of a meal-and-water concoction, and there’s no doubt that bacon grease gave it better flavor. Her cornbread was part of the dressing at holiday meals, and a standard side for the simple vegetable meals we ate at the farm. As a grown-up, I’m partial to greens, but as a kid, I loved it with her peas and butterbeans.

Like so many other things our forebears enjoyed, I think of both cornbread and bacon as taboos. “We don’t have that at our house,” my friend John Graham would say. Despite the fact that my grandmother, though round, ate bacon and cornbread all of her relatively-healthy life, and lived into her 80s, we know that there is little nutritional value and lots of potential for heart trouble in those two tasty foods.

Still, every now and then, when we have company and a mess of greens to cook, I’ll fry bacon and smother the greens in the grease, then make a small pan of not-sweet cornbread in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet with which I would not part.

It’s as fine a delicacy as a gourmet dish with a fancy French sauce, on that the legislature and I could agree. Even Honey, who’s been to chef school and is quite partial to gourmet dishes with fancy French sauces, would admit there’s not much better.

The resolution still has to go to the Senate before the cornbread can officially be considered the state bread, so there’s still time for biscuit aficionados to weigh in and attempt to tip the scales, no puns intended.

Somebody, please invite yourself to supper so we’ll have a good cornbread excuse.