Sunday, September 17, 2023

Privileged Cornbread


Here in the South, cornbread is almost always sold in the bakery department at one's local grocery store. And you can count on biscuits to be found on many menus and in the kitchens of Southern born-and-raised folk. Everyone has a secret biscuit recipe or technique passed down from their "meemaw." 

I am a bread snob and prefer artisan-created breads. But they are getting a little too pricey. They are now selling "half loaves," but those are even worse of a deal. 

So I've been making cornbread. In the Colonies, it was called "pone" or "corn pone." A wedge is considered a "pone." It's great in the morning with my coffee. A bit of good butter and jam. Perfect. For lunch, a few slices of cold cuts or since it is still tomato season, a few slices of fresh tomatoes, mayo, salt, pepper and a flutter of basil leaves. Now that's good eating. The cornbread absorbs juice of the tomato and mayo. Yum! And, of course, it's always good with whatever you are having for dinner, especially stews and soups.

The other day while making up a batch, I just happened to have a wedge of blue cheese, half gone, sitting on the counter. Out of curiosity, I crumbled some into the batter and, instead of using sugar, squirted in some honey that needed to be used up.

Man, it was GOOD!

In the past, I have added sour cream and canned cream corn.

Because fresh corn is so abundant right now (really, throughout the year), I decided to try fresh corn kernels and they did not disappoint. Frozen and canned, I think, can bake up a bit chewy. Fresh remained plumper, sweeter and crisper.

I use this handy tool for corn. Yes, you need one!

I finely diced a green onion and threw that in. 

I love this gadget! You will, too!

Since it was a small loaf, I used the rest of the corn and another scallion to make a saute to serve with dinner.

Die-hard Southerners insist on white corn meal. And no sugar.  To appease both sides, I simply mix white and yellow together which I keep in 1/2 gallon jar. Problem solved.

I do like sugar, though. Many who insist on no sugar in cornbread end up slathering it with sugar in the form of honey, molasses, or some kind of syrup. So, really, what's the difference?

It's traditional to bake cornbread in a cast iron skillet that is HOT with melted grease. And lots of it. Never a square pan. It is cut into wedges and served warm. 

I have several of these Lodge cast-iron skillets. The two handles are very handy.
It's considered an 8-inch skillet. The bottom is 6-inches. Also great for macaroni
and cheese and Dutch Baby pancakes. Amazon used to sell them in sets
of two, but not anymore. Often, they are on sale.
You can also get a lid, separately. 

Honey is not cheap. So, here I have used white sugar.

I always have bacon fat on hand because I buy it in containers. Many grocery stores now stock it: "BACON UP." And lard. Lard is pork fat. Both are healthier than butter and certainly better for you than any "seed oil." Bacon up has a slight smoky, bacon flavor and is perfect for frying eggs. It's also great for greasing the sides of casserole dishes. Add a bit to boiled beans to perk up the flavor. Ironically, it's cheaper at the grocery store than to order on Amazon. It has a long shelf life. I wouldn't be without it.

Also, buy a 'wedge' of cheese. Crumbles are just leftovers ... You don't need a gourmet brand here. My preferred brand is "Litehouse Simply Artisan Blue Cheese Center Cut," but it's getting more and more difficult to find. That is some good blue cheese for the money!

  • .5 or one-half cup yellow cornmeal
  • .5 or one-half cup all-purpose flour, preferably unbleached
  • 1/4 - 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2-3 tablespoons melted bacon fat plus more for the pan
  • 1 egg plus one egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk maybe 1-2 tablespoons more
  • 1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese from a whole wedge
  • 1 green onion, white and green parts
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh corn kernels
  • a dasher two of garlic powder
  • a dash or two of ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F. 

To a six or seven-inch cast-iron skillet, add at least one but not more than 2 tablespoons lard, bacon fat, shortening, butter or a combination thereof. Avoid all butter; it scorches easily. Place in oven to melt and to heat up the pan. You want a puddle of grease, not a thin coating. Why? It is what produces the great crust for the bread.

In a medium bowl, add your cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, garlic and pepper. Stir to combine.

In a small bowl, mix eggs, milk and melted fat. Add to dry ingredients and stir just until combined. Batter will be a bit thick. If too thick, add a bit more buttermilk, but you don't want your batter thin, like a pancake batter. Cornbread batter is forgiving and usually bakes up nice.

Gently mix in broken up cheese, onion and corn. 

Carefully, and with oven mitts, remove pan from oven. Gently swirl grease from bottom of pan to coat sides. Or use a brush or spoon. 

Gently and evenly, fill hot pan with batter. It will immediately begin to cook the edges. Return to oven and bake for about 20-25 minutes. The top should be golden with the pone pulling away from sides of pan with just a bit of sizzling grease. A toothpick or cake tester when inserted should come out clean.

WARNING! PAN WILL BE EXTREMELY HOT. USE PRECAUTION. USE OVEN MITTS, HEAVY POTHOLDERS. AVOID DISTRACTIONS. Place wire rack on top of pan and flip. Then re-flip and keep on wire rack to cool.

This is fine eaten on its own without butter or syrups. It is a bit on the rich side. Is it white-privilege rich? I don't think so. Cornbread, like all food,  has always been for everyone and that's how it should stay!

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