There Is More Than One Way to Make “real” Cornbread
Few dishes can be as political and controversial as cornbread. If you think the pineapple versus pizza controversy has heated up, ask someone in the American South if cornbread should be sweet or savory. Like the great sugar-in-cereal debate, the topic of cornbread often provokes an internal reaction, especially among blacks.
You see, corn was one of the few crops that enslaved people recognized when they were forced to work on the plantations of the New World. Although its domestication dates back 10,000 years, in southern Mexico, the general historical opinion is that the Portuguese introduced corn to Africa in the 16th century. West Africans knew how to manipulate corn kernels and create delicious dishes, especially baked goods, without milk, butter, or eggs. The original American cornbread recipe requires cornmeal, salt, hot water, and lard. That’s all.
According to food historian and writer Michael Twitty, “[what] we call cornbread today, plump and fermented with an egg, was once cornbread. It originated from British colonists who adapted their pastries to make white corn flour. ” In Jamaica, where I’m from, corn tortilla is a dense dessert made from yellow corn flour with nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice flavors. It takes a skilled hand to keep it from getting as hard as a brick. There is an old Jamaican saying, “A bad pony can kill a pig.”
As June gets closer to us, I have a ton of talk about cornbread – its origins, transformation, and meaning. For African Americans, cornbread represents an intuitive desire to see themselves reflected in the pantheon of American cuisine. We all love fried chicken and know its origins, but somewhere along the way, cornbread was borrowed and its origins got confused. American cornbread is bigger than apple pie. Want proof? The Southern Foodways Alliance has chosen Cornbread Nation as the title of their Southern Food Writing Anthology.
In the kitchens of the Big House, making cornbread allowed enslaved cooks to return home. As the cornmeal flowed through their fingers as they measured the ground flour, the memory of the middle aisle momentarily faded into the background. The flowing yellow or white food reminded them of kenki , daddy , ungali and flour bread – the ground corn meals they ate at home.
In Texas, in the homeland of Juntukh, cornbread has long been revered. In an 1853 New York Times article published 12 years before June 19, Texas said: “Cornbread is a staple food – anything made from wheat flour is almost as rare as ice cream in the Sahara.” There are many different types of cornmeal on the market and I have tried most of them. Texans prefer skillet cornbread over corn muffins that you find in, say, South Carolina, and I prefer cornbread made with finely ground cornmeal. While wholemeal flour is better for crumbling, I love cornbread, which I can eat without a drink. (I don’t like it when my cornbread is eaten like Popeye’s.) If you like Giffy , good for you, so do I.
I view cornbread as a palantir – mystical and indestructible – representing what has happened and the prediction of our future. As controversial as it is, it also brings us together, especially when you scoff at how someone else does theirs. My aunt puts cream corn in her corn. I put cheddar cubes and scottish pepper chunks in me. I’ve seen Caribbean chefs add orange zest and coconut, and I’ve seen chefs in the American South use whole grain corn and bacon in their mix. Whichever way you cut it, cornbread is freedom, one tasty bite after another.
Here is my Cast Iron Skillet Cornbread recipe that I make over and over. Sugar is optional.
How to make cornbread in a cast iron skillet
- 1 1/2 cups minced cornmeal (make sure it’s not cornmeal! Please don’t make this mistake. When in doubt, choose medium or coarse grains)
- 3/4 cup self-climbing flour (keep your eyes on yourself, self-climbing is a gem!)
- 1 ¼ cup buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons hot water
- 1 slice of butter, melted plus a quarter stick, unmelted
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 10-ounce can of whole grain corn, dried
- ½ cup white sugar (yes, this is optional)
Place a cast iron skillet in the oven and heat to 425F. In a bowl, combine ghee, buttermilk, eggs, and sugar if you like. In a separate bowl, combine the cornmeal and flour. Make a depression in the center for dry ingredients and add wet ingredients, then stir with a wooden spoon. Add corn and hot water and stir. Remove the hot skillet from the oven and lower the butter stick (stick). When it melts, add the cornbread mixture. It should hiss. Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes or when a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.