“The North thinks it knows how to make cornbread, but this is a gross superstition. Perhaps no bread in the world is quite as good as Southern cornbread, and perhaps no bread in the world is quite as bad as the Northern imitation of it.” — Mark Twain
Cornbread is one of those things that Southerners are very passionate about. It’s right up there with saying “Ma’am” and not wearing white shoes after Labor Day. On a charitable and Christian kind of day, however, a Southerner might be able to forgive you for wearing white shoes. But a cornbread faux pas … well, that’s a grudge that somebody might take to the grave.
So if you want to keep carrying your Southern card, here are a few things to remember about cornbread.
Cornbread is never sweet. “If you want sweet cornbread, head right on back up north.” “Sweet cornbread is a sin!” These are just a few things I’ve heard people say out loud. Down here, cornbread is savory, it may have pork in it, and every now and then, some hot peppers. Here’s what it doesn’t have in it: sugar.
Cornbread is always made in an iron skillet. Preferably one that’s been passed down through your family and has years of good seasoning on it. You’ll never get that good, crispy crust on the bottom in a Pyrex dish. Cast iron holds and distributes the heat in a way no other material can.
Cornbread does not come in muffins. Cornbread comes in wedges because cast iron skillets are round. It might also come in little sticks shaped like corn cobs if you use a cast iron pan that’s molded this way (I have one that belonged to my late mother-in-law). Save your muffin-making for breakfast treats and desserts. I will give a pass to a good meat-and-three that makes their cornbread in muffin tins because they are dealing with a quantity issue. But that’s really the only excuse.
Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix is the work of the Devil. Seriously. The Devil. First, the third ingredient is sugar, and we all know that’s a big no-no. Plus it has all this other good stuff: sodium acid, pyrophosphate, monocalcium phosphate, wheat starch, niacin, tricalcium phosphate, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid, and silicon dioxide. You want to eat all that? Then there’s the whole muffin issue. It’s right in their name, for Pete’s sake! Take that as a warning that they don’t know what they’re talking about. And the final nail in their cornbread coffin is that Jiffy comes from Michigan. Please refer to the the wisdom of Mark Twain above. If you get caught using Jiffy, your Southerner card will be immediately revoked, the church ladies will forever glare and whisper, and the integrity of any dish you make ever again in your life will be called into question. The convenience is not worth the risk.
I bet I’ve made a thousand pans of cornbread in my life. It’s one of life’s truly good things. It’s good with beans, greens, chili, and just about everything else you can think of to eat. And I’ve only made one change to my cornbread recipe over the years as a slight concession to health. I don’t add additional oil to the batter. I use a surprise ingredient. But I’m here to tell you, it does not make the cornbread sweet at all. Just moist and delicious. And you’ll never even know it’s there.
- Crisco or other vegetable shortening
- 2 cups McEwen & Sons self-rising cornmeal
- About 1¾ cups milk or buttermilk
- 1 four-ounce cup of prepared unsweetened applesauce
- 2 eggs
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. Put a glop of Crisco in your cast iron skillet, about a tablespoon or so, and put the skillet in the oven to preheat right along with the oven.
- Combine cornmeal, milk, applesauce, and eggs. Mix well.
- When the oven is heated all the way up, take that hot hot hot skillet out of the oven and pour the batter into it. That’s how you get a good crust on the outside.
- Bake 20 to 25 minutes for 10-inch skillet or 25 to 30 minutes for 8-inch skillet. When it is just perfect and golden brown on the top, remove from the oven and serve.