Some people might consider cornbread the Southern staff of life. Who would think of serving black-eyed peas or butter beans without it?
Early settlers in the South were dismayed to learn that the wheat they needed to make bread, certainly a staple they did not wish to do without, did not grow well in Southern soil. As we have so often seen before, some hungry Scott or Frenchman took what ingredients he had at hand and used it to try and recreate what he had eaten at home. Corn must have seemed an obvious replacement.
In fact, however, Native Americans were cooking with ground corn for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived.
Ground corn was mixed with a little baking powder, an egg or two and perhaps a splash of milk or butter milk and then it was baked or fried. Of course oil was not readily available, so lard or bacon fat was used to grease the pan. If the cook had his wits about him, he heated the bacon fat until it smoked, then added the corn meal batter, creating a thick, chewy crust. If the cook and his family were exceptionally blessed, there also would be a little butter churned from the days fresh milk to slather on the just-baked cornbread.
It might come as a surprise to some, but the freshness and quality of the corn meal used makes a huge difference. The wise cook will find a source for locally ground cornmeal and never use store-bought meal again. Of course this applies to grits, polenta and masa as well. You will be amazed at the difference.
As good as fresh-made cornbread is, other recipes using ground corn should not be forgotten. Corn pone, Johnny cakes, hush
puppies and spoon bread, to name just a few, are also well worth making and, when paired with the right vegetable and protein, are equally as delicious.
BASIC CORN BREAD RECIPE
This recipe was supplied by The Original Grit Girl of Oxford, Miss.
3/4 cup self rising flour
3/4 cup corn meal
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup butter milk
Heat oven to 425 degrees. In a cast iron skillet heat1/4 cup oil (or bacon grease if you dare) until hot. Mix the dry ingredients thoroughly. Add the eggs and buttermilk, stirring until lightly mixed. Pour into skillet and bake 20 minutes or until done. If you want to turn this into something spicy, add a chopped jalapeno, 1/2 cup whole corn and 1/2 cup cubed cheddar cheese. There are many good things to pair cornbread with. Of course freshly baked cornbread is simply delicious with a pad of good, sweet butter. The classic way to serve it is to top it with beans or peas and some short of chili sauce, chow-chow or tomato chutney. There are hundreds of variations. An all-time favorite is to pair good, crusty cornbread with beef stew. For many folks leftover roast became stew the next day, and a pan of cornbread completed the meal.
CORNBREAD AND BUTTERMILK
If you are from the old South, then you undoubtedly know of this quick and filling meal. Crumble 2/3 cup of leftover cornbread into a glass of buttermilk, give it a quick stir and eat with a spoon. Granddad ate it from a coffee cup, but putting it in a crystal wine glass just might give it a little more class.
CORNBREAD DUMPLINGS AND TURNIP GREENS
1 pound pork bones
1 quartered onion
2 bunches collard or turnip greens
1 cup cornmeal
2 pinches salt
1 small chopped red onion
Roast the bones in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes, place in a large stock pot and cover with cold water. Add the onion and simmer for 1 hour. Remove the bones and pick the meat off, discard the bones. Strain the stock and discard the solids. Stem the greens and simmer in the stock, along with the meat, until tender 35-45 minutes. Remove the greens, but leave the liquor in the pot. Combine the cornmeal, salt, onion and egg. Bring the liquor to a simmer and drop the dumplings in by the spoonful. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add the greens back to the pot and serve at once.
The origins of the Deep South recipe are unknown, but conjecture leads us to think of hunters sitting around a fire, preparing supper and a hungry dog makes his presents known. A spoonful of cornbread mixture is thrown in hot oil and the treat was given to the dog and, of course, the hunter says, "Now hush, puppy."
Hushpuppies are typically served with other fried foods, but that is mainly because of the convenience of heating the oil and cooking everything in one pot, but it doesn't have to be. Crunchy hushpuppies make a nice textural contrast to almost any meal with a Southern theme.
Remember, that as with any fried food, the shelf life is very limited. For best results serve within three minutes of cooking, after that ,they degrade rapidly.
Oil to fill your deep fryer half way full, never fill it any further
1- 1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup self-rising flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 pinches salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 farm fresh egg
Heat the oil to 350 degrees. Using a deep pot, preheat oil for frying to 350 degrees. Combine the dry ingredients thoroughly. Separately, combine the buttermilk and egg, now combine the dry and wet ingredients. Whisk for a minute, making sure there are no lumps. Drop a spoon full of the batter into the hot oil at a time, being careful not to over crowd the pot and fry until golden brown. Drain and serve at once.