"First thing I do is put the grease in my iron skillet, then I put it in a hot oven......"
That's how every good Southern cornbread begins. If you've ever lived in the South, or if you've spent time chatting or exchanging email with a Southerner, you probably know how particular they are about their cornbread, and how proud every Southern cook is with his or her own method. Considered a staple here, real Southern cornbread is near and dear to the hearts of all.
Cornbread was being made by Native Americans long before the first Europeans settled the Americas. The earliest cornbreads were called "pone", from the Algonquin word "apan", and were a simple mixture of cornmeal, salt, and water. No one really knows why cornbread recipes differ so much between the Northern and Southern states. Northern cornbreads use significant amounts of sugar and flour, while Southern cornbreads use very little or none at all.
In the 1928 cookbook, "Southern Cooking," Mrs. Dull advises, " If the batter is too thin, the muffins will be sticky; if too stiff, dry and tough. No flour is used in corn sticks, muffins or egg-bread. The real Southern cornmeal is sufficiently fine to hold the bread together. The bran is sifted from the meal."
Here in the South the supermarket shelves are stocked with a variety of cornmeal products, including self-rising meal, cornbread mixes and different grinds. If you can't find self-rising meal in your area, add 2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt for each cup of regular meal.
- Sprinkle a little cornmeal in the hot pan before adding the batter. It will brown and add a crispier texture.
- For a crusty cornbread, make sure there is a good "layer" of oil or shortening in the pan.
- A tablespoon of mayonnaise can be substituted for the egg.
- You can use all cornmeal, or lessen the amount of flour in the recipe.
- Use muffin or cornstick pans (preferably iron), to vary the shape.
- Instead of baking, fry the batter like pancakes.
The recipes below range from basic, traditional cornbreads to favorite dressed-up versions, corn muffins, spoon breads, and more. Enjoy!