The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge


By Susan M. Thigpen © 1984-2012

Issue: November, 1984

In a previous issue, we explained the old time way to cook pinto beans. Now, it just isn't fair to tell a person how to cook good beans and not include a recipe for cornbread. Here in the south, we cook cornbread in several different ways. There's skillet bread that's baked in the oven in a black iron skillet, there's hush puppies, and there's fried cornbread. Some bake corn muffins and add a little sugar to the cornbread batter and they're as good as any cake you might eat.

The choice of cornmeal is up to you these days, you can get white, yellow, plain and self-rising meal. Most country cooks start with the plain meal. I've never known a one of them that ever measured the meal, just scooped it out into a bowl. I'd say start with about two cups of cornmeal. Push the cornmeal away from the center of the bowl to make a hollow in it and in this hollow, put one egg and about a cup of buttermilk. Oh yes, add about a tablespoon of shortening. This will make up a basic batter. If you want to spruce it up a little, chop onions or peppers into it. Maybe even a little grated cheese. If you want a finer textured cornbread that isn't as crumbly, add a little flour to the batter. Some cooks prefer a thinner batter and some a thicker one. Just add a little more meal or milk to suit yourself. Batter for hushpuppies has to be thicker, fried cornbread, thinner.

One of the big secrets of baking skillet cornbread is this - Heat the skillet first and grease it well. Then pour your batter into the hot skillet and return it to the oven to bake. It takes a hot oven, about 400 degrees.

Hush puppies are dropped into hot grease and deep fried. Make their batter thick and pinch off pieces of the batter and roll it in your hands and drop in the hot grease. One side usually wants to stay "up" all the time so be sure you turn them to get them done all the way through. The grease should be medium hot.

Now, my favorite, fried cornbread. Use the black iron skillet again. Heat it up and have your batter about like pancake batter in consistency. Pour a little bacon or ham grease in the skillet, then pour the batter in like pancakes. Make them any size you think you can handle. Remember, you will have to turn them over at least once. You will have to keep adding grease from time to time, but be careful not to add too much at a time because the cornmeal will soak it up and be too greasy. With a little practice, you'll get the hang of it.

Traditional country cornbread isn't light and fluffy. It's heavy and thick. The best way to eat it hot or cold is broken up in a big glass of milk. I prefer buttermilk, others prefer sweet milk. Country folks have been eating cornbread this way since cornbread was invented!