Monday, June 29, 2009

Southern Skillet Cornbread

All controversy aside on preferred ingredients for cornbread, in my mind there really is only one thing that truly sets southern cornbread apart. It must be cooked in a screaming hot, cast iron skillet.

Southern Skillet Cornbread

Skillet cornbread is a southern staple. Baked in a preheated, sizzling hot oiled cast iron skillet, it produces a beautiful crunchy crust on the bottom, and that is what makes it so unique. But cornbread in The South can certainly be cause for debate, that's for sure.


The truth is ... the real secret that makes authentic southern cornbread, is that crusty crunch on the outside that results from fat in the bottom of a screaming hot cast iron skillet. Believe it or not, it's less about the recipe, or whether you use white or yellow cornmeal, flour, or sugar in your cornbread, and much more about the method itself.

Gasp! Did she really just say that??

Why yes indeed, I surely did! If you've got a couple minutes you can read my thoughts as a true born and bred Southerner on The Great Southern Cornbread Debate. Truth is, plenty of Southerners have been using a little bit of flour and even a pinch of sugar in their cornbread since the beginning of cornbread in a skillet. I know some other Southerners don't want to accept that, but from my research, it is true.

Flour adds body and corn just loves sugar and adding just a bit helps to take the edge off of that raw cornmeal flavor. The key there are the words "a little bit." Yankee cornbread is heavy in both flour and sugar, making it very sweet and cake-like. Not a thing wrong with that, but it's not Southern cornbread. If you put just a bit of flour and/or sugar in your Southern cornbread, guess what? It certainly is still Southern cornbread. In fact, if you're from the part of the Deep South where I am from, you likely use a little flour, a pinch of sugar, and only yellow cornmeal - not white.

So let's put that silly argument to rest until somebody can pull me out a "Southern Cornbread Bible" written by the hand of God himself that says otherwise, and remember that it's just food and cooking, and your way is always the right way when it comes to your kitchen. So let's just get cooking, shall we?

The top recipe below, is a slight adaptation of the "Dixie Cornbread" recipe published in a 1977 Junior League cookbook called "A Taste of Georgia," and was contributed by Mrs. William F. Lee, Jr.

Yes. I have cookbooks from all over The South because, in case y'all haven't figured it out yet, there is no one, single South when it comes to many things, including cooking. Depending on what part of The South you are from, you likely cook something totally different from another part of The South. I mean c'mon... we can't even agree on the pronunciation of the word pecan, because if you live in Georgia you probably say it totally different from how they say it in Texas and certainly from how we say it down here.

Oddly, even some Southerners still don't quite understand these regional differences in certain areas of The South and still think their way is the only right way. I still get told all the time that I'm not doing something "right" here on my own website. In all fairness though, I get it, because truth is, we Southerners don't usually venture all that far from that place where we were born.

Although this Dixie Cornbread does contain a small amount of flour, it adds body, and it is still a more classic version of southern cornbread - more dry with a more prevalent cornmeal texture and corn taste. I like it a lot, though the second recipe at the bottom that contains a little more flour and {gasp} a bit of sugar is also a favorite of mine. They are both equally delicious. For something a little different, try my Buttermilk Sour Cream Cornbread too sometime, including the Mexican version at the bottom of that recipe.

By the way... nobody's gonna take away your Southern card if you don't feel like fooling with preheating a cast iron skillet and trying to turn the cornbread out of it. It really is more than a little awkward to manage a screaming hot, cast iron skillet, no doubt. Just make this in an 8 x 8 inch pan if you like. I grease it down with Crisco so the cornbread gets that nice crust on the outside, then just add in the 1/4 cup of oil with the batter, pour it in and bake.

Kim said: I just used your [southern light] cornbread recipe, and I must say that is wonderful. It will replace the recipe that I've used for the last 20 years. Thanks so much!

Recipe: Southern Skillet Cornbread

©From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
Prep time: 10 min |Cook time: 20 min | Yield: About 8 servings

Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup of oil, shortening or bacon fat
  • 1-1/2 cups of all purpose white or yellow cornmeal
  • 3 tablespoons of all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
  • 2 cups of buttermilk, more or less
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
Instructions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Add the fat to a well seasoned 10-inch cast iron skillet and place the skillet into the oven to melt the fat and heat the skillet. In a bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Using mitts, carefully remove the skillet from the oven and swirl the hot fat around to coat the entire skillet.

Pour the fat from the skillet into the cornmeal mixture; stir. Stir in half of the buttermilk and add the egg; add more buttermilk as needed to make a thick but pourable batter. Depending on the grind of your cornmeal and the type of buttermilk you use, you may not need it all. Fold ingredients and don't beat the batter. Pour the cornmeal mixture into the hot skillet. Carefully place directly into the oven and bake at 450 degrees F for about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the skillet from the oven, let rest for 5 minutes, then very carefully turn the cornbread out onto a plate or platter to preserve that nice crispy crust!

Cook's Notes: If your cast iron is not well seasoned, your cornbread may stick. Slice out of the skillet if you are unsure. Use a medium grind of cornmeal, not a fine grind. Don't beat the batter or your cornbread will be crumbly. If your baking soda is not fresh, you won't get much of a rise. For insurance I've added a teaspoon of baking powder. I store both my baking soda and my baking powder in the freezer. Can substitute milk for the buttermilk, you'll need less. Can also substitute 2 cups of self-rising cornmeal mix. Eliminate the baking soda and salt if you use a cornbread mix. I prefer White Lily brand, buttermilk, white cornbread mix.

Pan Version: If you prefer to make this in a pan, don't worry. Nobody is gonna take away your Southern card. Just grease an 8 x 8 inch baking dish with vegetable shortening. Mix all of the ingredients together and pour into pan. Bake as above.

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Variations:

Sausage Cheese Cornbread: Add in 1/2 pound of browned breakfast sausage, 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese and 1 can of cream corn. Add 1/4 cup of finely minced onion and 1 teaspoon of finely minced garlic if desired.

Bacon Cornbread: For bacon cornbread, cook several slices of bacon until crisp. Crumble and add to the batter along with the pan drippings.

Cracklin' Cornbread: Stir about 1/3 cup of finely chopped, fried pork cracklings into the batter before baking.

For Corn Sticks: Melt 1/4 cup of Crisco (or bacon drippings) and mix that into the batter. For corn stick pans, I find cooking spray works the best. I use two of these 7 stick pans per recipe and usually have a little bit leftover, enough for 3 or 4 more sticks after the first 2 trays come out. Spray the corn stick pans generously with non-stick spray, then stick them in the oven while it preheats. For the corn sticks I find it easier to pipe the batter into the hot pans, so I scoop the batter into a zipper bag, cut off the tip and pipe it into the hot pans. It's just easier to work fast with those hot pans that way. I also reduce the heat slightly to 425 degrees F and bake for about 10 to 12 minutes or so until they are golden brown.
Another version that many southerners enjoy, including me, contains a little bit more flour and a bit of sugar. Gasp! Ssshh.... just don't tell nobody. Now, back in the day, there was a similar version of this cornbread, made with a slightly different method, much more sugar and was traditionally baked in a large loaf pan. I'll get to that version one day here soon! For now I hope that you'll enjoy this recipe with just a touch of sweetness and a bit of flour for body.

Recipe: Southern Light Cornbread:
From the Kitchen of Deep South Dish
  • 1-1/2 cups of white or yellow cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup of White Lily self rising flour
  • 3 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar, optional
  • Up to 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup of canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons of melted butter, optional
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a bowl, mix together the cornmeal, self rising flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, buttermilk and egg; don't beat. Set aside. Add the canola oil to an 8-inch cast iron skillet and place the skillet into the oven to melt the fat and heat the skillet. Using mitts, carefully remove the skillet from the oven and swirl the hot fat around to coat the entire skillet. Pour the fat into cornmeal mixture. For extra richness, add the melted butter. Gently blend in and pour the cornmeal mixture into the hot skillet. Carefully place into the oven and bake at 450 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes.

Variations: Add one or two (4 ounce) cans of chopped green chilies, undrained. For bacon cornbread, cook several slices of bacon until crisp and crumbled into the batter along with the pan drippings.

Sausage Cheese Cornbread: Add in 1/2 pound of browned breakfast sausage, 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese and 1 can of cream corn. Add 1/4 cup of finely minced onion and 1 teaspoon of finely minced garlic if desired.

Source: http://deepsouthdish.com

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Posted by on June 29, 2009
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58 comments:

  1. This is the only way to bake cornbread!

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  2. JIM-49 said
    Mary had to come by,and look at it to make my dressing for Christmas.Yes,this the second time,and I twist it alittle!! Have a Wonderful Christmas!!Oh Yes,new post,family would love,me make a good sandwich out of meat,and site as they eat it.I'm just not very much French,or Cajun.Looks Great though!!

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  3. Just seconds ago, I finished watching "Cook's Country - America's Test Kitchen" tv show on my local public television channel . . . and lo and behold they featured Authentic Southern Cornbread alongside chili. They followed your recipe almost exactly! I agree with you regarding the sugar and color of cornmeal: and the Southern cook on the show said the same thing about some of the 'myths' out there. I've seen so many cornbread recipe posts on blogs lately, so I need to get my act together and make some (and a batch of chili) during this cold spell! Roz

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  4. Do you use self-rising or plain cornmeal? For a while I was making pretty good cornbread with plain yellow cornmeal, but lately it just has not been "right" and I can't figure out what the difference is. Also,I've never used flour in my bread.

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  5. Hi Nanasboyz! I use plain ole regular cornmeal. I don't care for the texture of it all on its own though, so I do like to use a bit of flour for a softer texture - but not enough to make it cake like. I also like a little bit of sugar as you see to take away that harshness, but not too much!

    Unless you've changed brands of cornmeal - and that can for sure make a difference - the only other thing I can think of is to maybe replace your baking powder with fresh?

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  6. Mary, thanks for the reply. Didn't mention the sugar, because it's not real southern cornbread without sugar! From your comment, I suspect my baking powder is the culprit. I did add some flour to the last skillet of bread I made and it helped, but I put too much in it, because I could taste the flour. Since all I had was plain flour I did add baking soda too. Even with the slight taste of the flour, it was better than what I have been making. Love this site!

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  7. Thank you!! You know, I'm not much of a baker - so my baking powder gets old before I use it up. I did start storing it in the freezer, which "seems" to help to give it more time before it's not fresh anymore. (Could be my imagination though LOL) If you do keep it in the freezer, it needs to come to room temperature before you use it though. I just measure out what I need and then let the measuring spoon sit on the counter to warm.

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  8. I cook mine just like my mama did, in her cast iron skillet which was her mama's cast iron skillet. Yes we add just a tablespoon or so of sugar and no unless you watched me make it you would never know. Only real difference in mine and your recipes are I use regular milk and I flip mine and brown both sides so the top and bottom or crusty.
    BTW just found your blog via facebook. Love it.
    Hugs from Tx

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  9. Hey Vikki! Flipping huh? Clever!! And I know a LOT of southerners who sneak in a little bit of sugar but never say so because of this old stigma. It just does not taste right to me without just a bit of sugar!!

    Thanks for following DSD - hope you enjoy the sites!

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  10. I wanted to print this one...I am still trying to find that perfect for cornbread and this one sounds good. I could not find print posted after this one. Am I missing it or is it missing? lol

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  11. Hi Pam, you didn't miss anything. Those little print buttons are added in manually and I have to go back and do the older recipes. Just hadn't done this one yet, but I have since fixed that! Hope you enjoy the recipe - let me know what you think. Thanks!

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  12. I am Southern. I just have to say that in my kitchen the cornmeal MUST be yellow. If one store is out I will drive to another. I think it makes a difference in the texture. As far as sugar, it depends what I am serving with the cornbread or how I am using it. I don't add sugar when I make cornbread for dressing, but I do when I use it to serve with chili. I am from one southern state and my hubby is from another. Guess what? Cooking varies within the southern states. People should get over it. It is all good. Love your blog!

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  13. AMEN TO THAT! Can I just hug your neck please?? :) Seriously - very well said and welcome!

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  14. I went out an bought a cast iron skillet just to make this recipe. It was a huge hit. I've since made it THREE times in a week. Hubby says it is the best. I have to add green chilis to ours though.

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  15. Thanks so much Bev!! This is just the basic here - I need to get a couple of other versions up here too.

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  16. Lovin that cornbread Mary, have a very Happy New Year, and keep those awesome recipes and pics coming....you're the best!

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  17. Another really good way to fix your cornbread is to place a few strips of bacon in the bottom of your skillet and then add your cornbread mix. When you turn the bread out of the skillet, you have a nice topping of crunchy bacon.

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  18. This is just like my cornbread recipe minus the egg. I heat the oil and sprinkle salt in the skillet and pour the batter in. Delicious!

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  19. My Momma would SLAP me if I put sugar in my cornbread..lol

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  20. And if I don't have buttermilk...I won't make it. Your recipe is the one I grew up with, but ours was always with white cornmeal, which I still use.

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  21. Your recipe is the one I grew up with in Texas used by my mother and grandmother. When we moved to Tennessee, I observed some of the older women using self-rising flour, buttermilk and real mayonnaise. (No eggs or oil or salt or anything else.) I was amazed that it turned out just like my 'real' cornbread. LOL! There really are many ways to make it. (I never did get the recipe for the mayo cornbread though.)

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  22. LOL Paual, I know some southerners are real sticklers about that sugar thing. I say do what makes it good for your! I've used milk and real buttermilk (not the substitute) - either one is good to me.

    I've heard of that with the mayo Billie, but never tried it. I think I must remedy that now!

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  23. I use butter in the pan, as I don't usually have bacon fat. Then, I just pour the batter into the melted butter. (even when I use Jiffy! - gasp!!!) But, I ALWAYS use my cast iron skillet. It's just a waste not to. Yes, I'm a true Cajun!

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  24. Hey Kittye! Look.. I ALWAYS have some Jiffy in my pantry so you won't hear any judgment from me! I happen to think it's tasty myself but then, I am a rebel LOL!!

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  25. Try this way. White Lily Buttermilk Corn Meal ONLY!! Use your judgement on how much cornmeal to use. Grease your cast iron skillet with bacon grease, put cornmeal in bowl, use enough buttermilk to wet cornmeal, then finish with water to make a batter. Pour in COLD skillet, put in COLD oven, bake at 375 until it's as brown on top as you want it.

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  26. Hey I'm always open for new things - thanks!

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  27. Well, Mary, I caught myself out of Jiffy cornbread! I thought I had 2 boxes, but they were other Jiffy products. So, I had to make my own, and of course, I added sugar. However, I added 2 Tablespoons (not teaspoons) and I could have added more, but I was exercising restraint! ;) I compared the taste of the dough versus what Jiffy's tastes like (yes, I know). Have a great day!

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    Replies
    1. Hey Kittye! You know you won't get any arguments outta me on that! :) Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving me a "sweet" comment!! LOL!!

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  28. I was looking for a simple cornbread recipe that used only cornmeal, and your recipe baked up beautifully! I like a wee smidge of sugar myself (but never ever in my grits), but I couldn't find any (moving) and it's still yummy :)

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    1. Yeah, I'm not much for the sugar in grits myself Natalie, but I'm like you - I do think cornbread really needs just a pinch of sugar! I'm so glad that you enjoyed my recipe & thank you so much for taking the time to pop back by and leave a comment. I really do appreciate that! Best of luck with your move - I know how much of a life disruption that can be!

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  29. What is the difference between buttermilk vs regular milk, regarding taste???? And, would evaporated milk work the same in place of regular milk????

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    Replies
    1. Buttermilk is a kind of "soured" milk where regular whole milk is a sweet milk. Buttermilk used to be what was left over after the hand churning process to make butter, though it is simply cultured from a low fat milk these days with goodies added in to achieve the same taste & texture. It adds a classic tang & a sort of buttery richness to cornbread, even though it is actually low fat. Regular, whole milk can be substituted in cornbread, and even soured with a bit of vinegar added to it, but I've never used evaporated milk in my corn bread. Evaporated milk is simply milk that has had a large percentage of the water removed, but it can be reconstituted by adding water back to it. That route may work better. Hope this helps!

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  30. Curious why the second recipe uses self rising flour as opposed to the first which uses all purpose?

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    1. The first recipe is an adaptation of a cookbook recipe I liked and only used 3 tablespoons of flour so I stuck with the all purpose as it called for. The second recipe is mine. I wanted it to be lighter - have more rise & texture - so I used self rising flour. Hope that helps!

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  31. Hi Mary:
    Your recipe states to "fold ingredients". What does this mean? Thanks in advance

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    Replies
    1. Hi! It's just a more gentle method of mixing. With cornbread, if you overbeat the batter, it tends to get crumbly and fall apart. To fold ingredients in, just take a rubber spatula and gently slide it up under the ingredients, turning the bottom ingredients up over the top ingredients. Turn the bowl a quarter turn and keep repeating that fold until the ingredients are all blended in together. I hope that makes sense!!

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  32. Replies
    1. Oh good! Sometimes it's hard to tell in type if you're explaining things well!!

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  33. Just wanted to tell you that I finally found the Slap Yo Mama spice at our WalMart. I got the 'hot' and I sprinkled a gob..probably about a teaspoon into this cornbread....and it was DIVINE!!!! Can't wait to try it in and on many things...we love it! So glad I found you on FB.

    I Play Outside The Box-AKA-Doris Henson

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    Replies
    1. Hey Doris! I'm so glad that you found it! And the hot version too - you are a spicy gal!! :) You'll really find it to be a great "all purpose" seasoning - wel love it too!

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  34. I love the controversy over sugar. I was a faithful reader of Lewis Grizzard's column and he was a firm believer that there was no place for sugar in cornbread. He said that "It is in the Bible, in the Book of Martha White". I always think of him when the "sugar topic" is mentioned. Personally I think just a bit of sugar does wonders.

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    1. It does get a bit silly though doesn't it? I do agree just a little bit of sugar takes that raw meal taste away to me, but folks will sure stand on their convictions.

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  35. I have made cornbread every which way and wonder. Its all GOOD. sugar does help. My grandmother put a pinch of sugar in her cornbread. A cast iron skillet is a must, and guess what, you do not have to heat it in the oven, I have heated the skillet right on top of the burner, then pour the mix in and popped in the heated oven. Works too.

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    1. Sure it does! I just use the oven since I'm preheating it anyway, but stovetop works too!

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  36. I am gluten free can you suggest a substitute for the flour?

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    1. Hi! I have zero experience with gluten free cooking, so I'm afraid I have no idea on how to adapt recipes, so sorry!

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  37. Mary I love your recipes and thought I would add my cornbread recipe. I'm a transplant from the UK and married a southern boy so had to learn to bake cornbread. I put a stick of butter in my iron skillet, put it in the oven at 400 degrees. Then mix 2 cups of self raising corn meal mix with 2 eggs and 2 cups of buttermilk. When the oven beeps to let me know it is up to temperature I take the skillet out of the oven, pour 1/2 of the hot melted butter into the cornbread mix and quickly stir it in and pour it into the skillet and bake for 30 mins at 400 degrees. It comes out nice and brown and light.

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  38. A very lovely article. Certainly from the heart. I have some in the oven now. I had to sub milk for buttermilk but I also have cornmeal that is from the farmer's "select" plot. Not the stuff he sells to the mills. Its so sweet you can eat it by the teaspoon raw. Yes, that good. I picked it up from one of the farmers in Louisiana at a fair they have every year in Franklinton Parish. It came out simply divine.

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  39. MY CORNBREAD HAS BEEN SO BAD LATELY, CAN'T EVEN MAKE JIFFY, TOO SWEET, MAKING A BATCH OF YOURS AS WE SPEAK. MY WON'T RISE, OR JUST FALLS APART. USE MY SKILLET AS YOU STATE, BUT TERRIBLE.
    HOPE THIS WORKS AND CHANGES MYCORNBREAD LUCK.

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    Replies
    1. Oh gosh, I hope so too!! Make sure you have fresh baking powder and shake the container. As far as the crumbling, just gently combine the ingredients but don't beat. Overbeating is usually the culprit behind crumbling so try to just kind of fold it in.

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  40. I loved reading this article. It's so funny about how people (including me) are very defensive about what the "right" way to cook cornbread is. I grew up in the Air Force, but both my parents' families were in Alabama. We always had good ol' southern cooking when we visited. One grandmother made sweet cornbread, the other didn't. We mostly had the unsweetened cornbread and to this day I will tell people "real Southern cornbread isn't sweet!". Of course, I know that it all depends on where you come from as to what you prefer. LOL - my father likes sweet cornbread because that's what he grew up eating, and so did my stepmother, so they always make it sweet. Me, not a chance in the world am I going to put sugar in mine. Oh, I also don't drink sweet tea anymore. Grew up on it, yes, but when my mother became a diabetic and started making unsweetened tea at home, I fell in love. I haven't had sweet tea in more than 40 years. Anyway, just wanted to tell you it was fun reading your article and comparing your recipe to mine. - thanks for that! :-)

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  41. My dad always insisted that cornbread and pineapple upside down cake be baked in a cast iron skillet. Being from St. Mary's County MD he considered himself a Southerner. I've followed in his foot steps and only do those in cast iron. I've added biscuits to the list of cast iron with nice results. My uncle said that cornbread didn't have sugar. He called sweet cornbread Johnny cake and was a poor man's dessert. Anyway, after finding this recipe I decided to try this with my chili and can smell it, so it's almost done. Will let you know how it is. Thanks, Tim from DC

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    Replies
    1. I love biscuits in a cast iron skillet too! They get that lovely crunchy bottom but are tender on the inside - just wonderful!! I sure hope that you enjoyed the cornbread Tim & thanks for taking the time to stop by and comment!!

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    2. Mary, We really enjoyed the recipe. I took some to a co-worker who really enjoyed it with her leftover chili. I think that chili is the absolute best thing to accompany cornbread. Thanks again.

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    3. I would have to agree with that! I thought for sure we were getting close to chili weather last week with that nice cold spell, but the heat & humidity returned this week. The weatherman says cooler weather is on the horizon again - I sure hope he's right! This has been one hot summer in So. Mississippi.

      Thank you for taking the time to come back and share that y'all enjoyed the cornbread - I really appreciate that!

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