Cornbread is one of those things I take for granted about living in Arkansas. Growing up here, I just assumed that everybody ate the stuff, only to find out that many people had never even heard of the it; or worse, they put sugar in it. Let me get it out of the way right now: we have a name for that sort of thing in Arkansas; we call it cake. As I’ve grown older, I’ve discovered that there are a few different ways of making cornbread, but my favorite is still cornbread the way my mama made it – in a cast iron skillet.
My mother taught me how to make cornbread when I was really young. Some of my earliest memories are licking the bowl after she mixed up the batter (you might find this strange, then again, you might find you like it if you tried it). Her recipe was simple, and the result was a cornbread that had a delicious crunchy crust but was moist and rich in the middle. It’s perfect with purple hull peas, stew, greens – or by itself holding up a pat of melting butter.
- 2 cups of white cornmeal. You can get the kind that already has leavening in it, or you can add 1/2 teaspoon baking powder to the regular kind.
- 2 Eggs
- 1 cup or so of buttermilk. I say “or so” because making cornbread has always been more about the consistency of the batter rather than adhering to strict measurements. Your goal is a batter that pours easily but isn’t soupy. It should have the consistency of good pancake batter – because really, cornbread made this way IS a type of “pancake.”
- Pinch of salt
- Splash of vegetable or canola oil.
- 1-2 teaspoons shortening.
- Optional: jalapenos, onions, cheese.
Mix your ingredients (except the shortening) with a wire whisk or fork until well blended. Get out your cast iron skillet (you MUST have at least one cast iron skillet in order to cook Southern food) and melt your shortening, heating until it shimmers. Turn to medium-high heat and pour your batter in – this will “fry” the cornbread a little bit and result in a crispy, golden-brown crust. Watch for small bubbles to start forming around the edges of the cornbread; when this happens, put the skillet into a 350 degree oven and bake until the middle is set and the top is browned. Invert your skillet over a plate, and serve.
Cornbread is pretty good by itself – some folks put ground beef into it along with their peppers, onions, and cheese and call it “Mexican” cornbread. I’ve always thought that ground beef made the end result a little greasy, and cheese can interfere with the cornbread rising correctly while baking. Peppers and onions are an excellent addition, though, just soften them up in a bit of oil before you cook add them to the batter. My favorite way to eat cornbread is with peas:
Cornbread is easy to make and there’s not many dishes more Southern. Skillet cornbread like this isn’t the only type of cornbread made here in the South, though, and I’ll be posting another way of making it at a future date. Until then, happy cooking!