Monday, June 29, 2009

The Great Southern Cornbread Debate

A Southern Born and Bred Southerner's Take on the Cornbread Debate

The truth is ... in my little ole humble opinion, the two things that make cornbread Southern is 1) using a cast iron skillet to make it, and 2) pouring the batter into a very hot cast iron skillet that has been coated in some kind of fat. That's the secret that makes cornbread Southern - that yummy, crunchy bottom. Believe it or not, it's less about the recipe than the method itself. Gasp! Did she really just say that??

Why yes, I did.

And listen, don't you go lettin' people tell you that it's not Authentic Southern Cornbread if it's got sugar or flour in it. That's a myth and you know what I say about that?


If you like the texture flour adds, use it. If you like sugar, add it. If you don't, leave it out. If somebody tries to tell you that it's not "the real deal" with sugar, they are just being haughty, bless their hearts. Ignore them. It's just simply not true.

I can tell you that I know plenty of Southern cooks from waaaaaay back that like at least a little bit of sugar in their cornbread, even if they don't tell anybody about it - and Jiffy cornbread mix, one of the best selling mixes in The South, absolutely has sugar in it - so just don't listen to the naysayers and add some sugar if you like. Personally I think it's just a myth that has been perpetuated over the generations, while all the while Southern cooks were sneaking a bit of sugar in their cornbread when no other eyes were around.

Besides that, corn absolutely loves sugar, and cornmeal is no different. By the way, I'm not talking making cake here folks, so just a couple of teaspoons, maybe even a tablespoon, is plenty.

Likewise for those who say to be Authentic Southern Cornbread it must be made with white cornmeal, not yellow.


Most everybody - and possibly everybody I know - who has grown up, and lived their lives in the vicinity of The Deep South where I am - which quite frankly is just about almost as far south as you can get - uses yellow cornmeal. Walk in the grocery store and you will see hundreds of bags of yellow cornmeal and you'd be hard-pressed to find white, except in a cornbread "mix," so if we use white, it's usually because for some crazy reason, the store was out of yellow cornmeal and we had to resort to a mix.

Which means very simply one thing. How you make cornbread is, of course, completely regionally based. You probably make it the way your mama made it, or the way your neighbors, or your home ec teacher made it. 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. But then there's this.

When I discovered stone ground cornmeal and it's beautiful texture, I knew that was another element of what made up a real southern cornbread. It really doesn't need much of anything else except a little fat, buttermilk and leavening. No sugar, because the corn is sweet. No flour because the grind gives the cornbread body. It's a secret the mountain regions have known for years and it produces an incredible, delicious, tender, flavorful cornbread!

But... and it's a big but, you ain't finding no good stone ground cornmeal 'round these parts. Nope.

No mills here in South Mississippi, so you have to order stone ground cornmeal in, which isn't cheap. I tried a few different brands and I really love the Great Smoky Mountains Corn Meal. I buy two bags at a time and freeze one. The other must be stored in the fridge. I really like that purchases from their store help to support the park too.

Or... you're just more likely to use what you have available to you, which is the standard milled white or yellow, grocery store shelf cornmeal. Totally different, but not a thing wrong with that either, except that it needs some help with a little flour and yes, maybe even a small bit of sugar.

So in other words, if you are a Southerner, don't be trying to throw down a Southern Shame Card on me or any other Southerner about what you think is or is not right or wrong. I get some Southerners who have said to me that "a real Southerner would [or wouldn't]..." do something that I have done in my recipes, as if I am not a "real" Southerner! Sugah, please stop!! Frankly I think it's just silly to waste energy gettin' all up in arms over things like that anyway, but for some reason certain myths keeps getting perpetuated across the generations and people still feel a need to insist they are the only ones who do something "right." It's a silly fight, so let's just stop it, shall we? It's just food and cooking and your way is always the right way when it comes to your kitchen, but not anybody else's.

Frankly all that matters is finding the perfect for you cornbread, and the three biggest secrets to Southern cornbread is 1) find a good stone ground cornmeal, if you can, otherwise, 2) use a cast iron skillet and 2) pour the batter into hot fat, and, that, is what makes cornbread "Authentic, Real Southern Cornbread."

So now, I don't know about you but I am seriously craving some cornbread, so let's go make a skillet! Right here on my site you can find a more traditional, classic savory version made with bacon fat, a bit of flour and no sugar, or what I call a Southern light version that has just a bit more flour and a tad bit of sugar. I've also got some corn muffins, an amazing honey jalapeno cornbread, and a sour cream version that includes the fabulous Mexican cornbread version too. Why not just try them all?