Old Fashioned Texas Country Cornbread Is Simple Treat
New York...and cornbread?
Some years ago, while doing a trade show in New York, I found myself getting back to the hotel late and too tired to go out to dinner. New York delicatessens are about the finest thing (in my mind) since homemade lovin’ so I decided to go that route as there was a good one right next door to the hotel. Having loaded up a plate so full I nearly had to take out a bank loan to pay for it; I suddenly discovered “cornbread” muffins at the end of the counter and added one of those. Texas is considered part of the South in these United States and most southerners are cornbread lovers. I learned a huge lesson that night.
A cornbread muffin in the Big Apple has nothing at all to do with a cornbread muffin – or any other form of cornbread – in the southern states. That muffin was sweet – although it did have cornmeal in it – and in my mind should have been considered a dessert! I thought I was buying the kind of cornbread southerners are used to and to say I was more than disappointed is an understatement. I never bought another muffin or anything else in New York that said it was “cornbread” because their definition of that treat and my definition of it just don’t gee and haw!
Being raised in Small Town, Texas is a guarantee one knows what cornbread is. Does everyone love it? Nope, not everyone loves it but most do and consider it a staple in one’s diet. Having been raised by my Granny who put homemade biscuits and cornbread on her table at every meal; well, I’m one of those die hard cornbread addicts – real cornbread. Now, these days there’s every kind of cornbread under the sun – including cranberry cornbread (I saw a recipe the other day) but the cornbread purists among us just want the plain, old, regular cornbread we were raised on.
In the interest of making sure that real cornbread gets its due here – gonna give you the recipe for Granny’s cornbread – and the little tricks that make it taste so good. There’s also a “quick” cornbread she used to make which she called “hot water cornbread” (which is fried in an iron skillet) and hot water cornbread runs a real close second to the baked cornbread of my childhood.
Cornbread IS NOT cake...
First and foremost – good Texas cornbread must be baked in an iron skillet (at least an 8” one – 10” is good) with about 1/8” grease in the bottom – be it bacon grease, cooking oil, or good ‘ol Crisco. Then that skillet’s got to be hot enough to nearly smoke. Put the skillet on a burner on top of the stove and let ‘er heat up really good! The trick being – when you pour your batter into the skillet the oil/grease should bubble around the edges and you let it cook about 30-45 seconds on top of the stove and that’s what makes it so crispy and tasty on the bottom when you get ready to eat it. After the top burner move is complete you put it in the oven (400 degrees, which you’ve preheated) and let it cook until its golden brown on top.
Fact is, as soon as her cornbread started to brown a bit on top; Granny always took a dinner plate, turned the cornbread out of the skillet (top down) and onto the plate so the bottom was up and then slid the cornbread back in the pan (bottom up). This allows the top to really get a good brown while it’s upside down in the skillet and also allows the bottom (that’s up) to dry out a bit and be more crispy. All-in-all, cooking cornbread a certain time is nearly impossible. You have to watch it – when the top starts to brown – turn it – and after you turn it you should give it about three-to-five minutes upside down and then turn it out of the skillet (right side up) and serve it.
Why would anyone explain how to bake cornbread before including the recipe for it? Well, here’s the trick. If you want really good, crispy bottom and top, cornbread, the information we’ve just given you is probably the most important part of the recipe. Cornbread that’s not browned properly and is kinda just pale and neutral isn’t true, southern cornbread – at least in my experience. Here’s the ingredients:
One (1) cup of yellow (or white) cornmeal – yellow cornmeal gives a coarser texture
One (1) cup of regular flour
Three (3) teaspoons of baking powder
Two (2) (leveled on top) teaspoons of salt
Two (2) eggs
Enough milk to make a medium thick batter (buttermilk may be substituted and in my opinion is better). Add the milk until you get the proper consistency – if you add too much milk and the batter gets thin the cornbread will not “set up” and will fall apart when you try to cut/eat it. A thick batter makes a thick cornbread and cornbread should fall in the range of not more than 1” to 1-1/2” high when it’s done. If you use too little milk and your cornbread comes out thick – well, that’s just not gonna cut it ‘cause real cornbread is NOT thick like cake.
Mush? No, no, no...
Southern cornbread is wonderful buttered and served with fresh vegetables. In fact, if you’re having a vegetarian meal you’ll be surprised at how much flavor it adds to everything. In Texas one never cooks brown (pinto) beans without serving cornbread, onion and ice tea with it (and fried potatoes and onions go with that menu pretty good, too!) Cornbread is also great with soups, stews…well, just about anything you can name. Like I said, we had baked cornbread every meal (except breakfast) and I never found anything it didn’t compliment. If you happen not to have a dessert handy just butter more cornbread and put honey on it – yum!
Speaking of breakfast – hot water cornbread is a great breakfast treat! It will, however, take the place of baked cornbread with anything you choose to eat it with. It’s so simple to make it’s nearly funny! In the East and North I’ve heard it called “cornmeal mush” or “fried cornmeal mush.” Neither one of those sound good to me at all so here’s the recipe for “hot water cornbread”:
Two (2) cups of yellow corn meal
Two (2) level teaspoons of salt
Add just enough boiling water (and boiling it must be) to the dry ingredients to make a consistency you can work with your hands and make patties (about 2-1/2 to 3” across) that will hold together. Remember, this is not really a “batter” but a thick consistency (the dry ingredients are just moistened) – thin won’t cut it! Whatever you do; shape patties no thicker than ½” or they’ll be doughy! When you’ve made your corn patties fry them in an iron skillet with about 1/8” grease/oil that’s nearly smoking (just like for baked cornbread). When one side browns to your liking -- turn it over and brown the other side. When the patties are done place them on a plate with a paper towel on it to draw out the excess grease/oil. Hot water cornbread is delightful for breakfast with maple syrup, honey or jam.
I never think of cornbread that I don’t think of my son’s father, Bill. In the interest of our child we remained “sorta” friends after our divorce. Over all those post-divorce years we always had a standing joke. I’d always tell Bill “I sure do miss my dogs” (he’d kept the two cow dogs). He’d always reply “I sure do miss your cornbread!”
Looking back, I’m just grateful he thought I did one thing right, anyway! Of course, after all those years we were married if it's cornbread he remembers that may well explain why the marriage went south!
Copyright 2012 Angela Blair All Rights Reserved
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