Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cornbread, The Bread of Youth

A few weeks ago, while my family was scurrying around in my mother's garage preparing for her estate sale, my mother told us there was a stash of old iron skillets under the stove in the kitchen. We were to go look them over and each take one home if we wanted to. They were the kind you hope your new iron skillet becomes, crusted from years of use and so seasoned, you hardly have to add food to make a meal. I'm exaggerating, of course, but we each remembered these old pans from our childhood, and we each took one.

There were round skillets of different sizes, and there was one divided into wedge shapes for scone-shaped corn bread—this pan used to belong to our grandmother, and my sister and I remember finding a rat's nest made from snake skin in it when we were visiting once—and there was one with wells shaped like ears of corn. My mother used to make corn sticks with this pan when I was a little girl, and I remember eating them like candy, crispy on the outside and grainy and delicious on the inside.

Yesterday while we were making dinner, I ran across the corn stick pan in my cabinet and got so excited. Let's make corn sticks to go with the roasted chicken and sauteed corn and peppers! And my mother looked at me like I had gone over the edge of the sanity plane. What's the big deal about corn sticks, anyway? I made them for years, and there's nothing to it.

My mother is beyond stringing together those phrases, I'm afraid, but she isn't beyond saying them with her facial expression. I was determined. I got out the ingredients to make corn bread, following the recipe on the Aunt Jemima corn meal package, and baked them in time to be served with dinner. They only take 15 minutes in this wonderful old pan, so you don't have to wait long.

I have to confess, I was disappointed. My mother ate hers quietly and didn't complain, but when I suggested they didn't taste as good as hers used to, she smiled knowingly. I think there is a difference between the corn meal we use in Yankeeland and the corn meal my mother used. I will have to find a new source for the meal. In the mean time, here is the recipe she used to follow when she bothered to follow a recipe at all.


Some recipes call for bacon drippings instead of shortening, but my mother thinks bacon drippings are too greasy, and it can hold other flavors you might not want in your cornbread. She also said it’s important to pour batter into a hot pan because the heat keeps it from sticking and helps form a nice, brown crust.

1 cup plain white cornmeal
1 tablespoon flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg, beaten slightly
3 tablespoons shortening, melted

Preheat oven to 450˚. Generously grease 6 to 7-in round iron skillet and heat in oven until very hot while mixing bread.

In a mixing bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, soda and salt. Mix buttermilk and egg separately and add to dry ingredients. Stir until just combined. Pour into melted shortening and mix well. Pour batter into hot skillet and bake about 20 minutes or until brown.


dive said...

What fun! I have got to see if I can find one of those corn-stick pans over on this side of the Atlantic, Robyn.
Keep at it! I think the secret to cooking stuff that tastes as good as our mothers made is to cook the stuff as often as they did.

Shan said...

"They were the kind you hope your new iron skillet becomes, crusted from years of use and so seasoned, you hardly have to add food to make a meal."

I love it! I shall be inspired by your writing as I try to start up my silly blog again. I feel I can hardly communicate properly any more. sigh

I saw a corn pan like your mom's at our local farm store a few years ago and, though it isn't the pan of MY youth, I still kinda wanted to get it for some corny cornbread. It just looks like it would be even more tasty that way and rolled in butter. mmm