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.
All controversy aside on preferred ingredients for cornbread, in my mind there really is only one thing that truly sets southern cornbread apart. It's always best 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 secrets that make authentic southern cornbread, is

1) using a good, stone-ground cornmeal, and

2) 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 quality of the cornmeal and the actual 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.
P.S. If you're not interested in the rest of the chit chat, the solution is simply really.
Just swipe or scroll on down to the recipe. Takes two seconds, really!

Truth is, the majority of Southerners don't have access to a good stone-ground cornmeal, so they mostly use grocery store cornmeal, and believe me it makes a very big difference, so plenty of Southerners have been using a little bit of flour and even a pinch of sugar in their cornbread made from grocery store cornmeal since the beginning of cornbread in a skillet time.

I know some other Southerners don't want to accept that, but from my personal 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 and harsh grocery store cornmeal flavor.
The key there are the words "a little bit."

What we down south call 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 what we in the south call 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 don't have easy access to stone-ground cornmeal or even white cornmeal, so you likely use a little flour, a pinch of sugar, and only yellow cornmeal - not white - so it's more of a regional thing really as to whether you use white or yellow cornmeal.

Since discovering stone-ground cornmeal, I use that and the recipe from my cookbook to make cornbread most of the time now, and the recipe formula is definitely different. There are no mills in the deep south however, so I do have to buy my stone ground cornmeal online.

Since discovering this amazing cornmeal, I have ordered from several sources, but I found one sold through The Smoky Mountain Association and have been buying it from them the past few years. It's a high-quality cornmeal, but also the sales through their store help the park. They have two mills in the park they use, Cable Mill and Mingus Mill, the latter still using the original stones from when it was built in 1886. Keep in mind that stone ground cornmeal must be stored in the freezer or fridge however.

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 recipe I use the most since discovering stone ground cornmeal is in my cookbook. It's totally different from the recipe here, but stone-ground cornmeal makes a huge difference in both the flavor and the texture of the finished product. If you've only got grocery store cornmeal, use this recipe. The recipe below, is a slight adaptation of the "Dixie Cornbread" recipe I found 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 I'm always on the lookout for old cookbooks at yard sales, estate sales and online to use as research when I write a new recipe. In case y'all haven't noticed, cookbooks have a very short shelf life in the library, so you generally won't find any of the older ones there.

Since I started blogging, I've come to find that 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. Folks in north Alabama cook far different from my region of the south and folks in Georgia or the Carolinas cook different from they do in Louisiana and Tennessee.

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 and still think their way is the only right way and every other southerner is wrong. 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. I guarantee the subject of any amount of sugar in cornbread, no matter how miniscule, will conjure up somebody quoting a famous Missourian, Mark Twain, who said "If God had meant for corn bread to have sugar in it, he'd have called it cake" quote. With all due respect, some would say that Missouri is more mid-western than southern, and, just like anybody else, it's really just one man's opinion.

Anyway....

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. It works best with grocery store cornmeal and I like it a lot. 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, heavy cast iron skillet, no doubt, and it doesn't get any easier to manage one, as you get older and suffer from things like arthritis.

Just make it in an 8 x 8-inch baking 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.



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Posted by on June 29, 2009
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