14 December, 2015

"Close to" Grandpa's Cornbread - A Family Tradition

Making cornbread has been very important to me. As a child, often times Grandpa, my mother's father, Jacob Anderson, would make cornbread on cold evenings. We ate it, as we ate many things, with milk and sugar over it and maybe some chunks of Cheddar cheese and bologna to round out the fare. It was simple and humble. He let me help in stirring the cornmeal up and taught me how all went together.  As soon as I turned 18 I forgot all that, after all, I was going to leave all that 'farmer' stuff behind.

Fast forward.

In my thirties, I suddenly began to want to recreate that cornbread of my youth. The ingredients were hazy, but how it looked, how it tasted remained vivid. I searched out recipes and had the good sense to buy a cast iron skillet and season it properly. I searched all over for recipes – most of them had additives that would have offended my English/Irish heritage – like jalapenos and spices. We ate very plainly.

Finally, I hit on a simple recipe that was very close to the taste and texture I remembered and with an attention to detail that would aghast most of my close companions (I'm not known as a "detail man"), I worked it out. I learned that ingredients were only a small part of making a good cornbread.

1 c cornmeal
1 c flour
3 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 each egg
1 c milk
¼ c melted butter

First, the cast iron is essential. Secondly, using any oil but butter is a no-no. The two are necessary for the process and your good results are in the processes.

This cast iron pan has seen a lot of cornbread
I'm eating some of this one when I finish this post.
Add the butter to the skillet. Turn on the oven for 400º place the pan with butter in it into the oven as it warms. Having a hot skillet to start the cornbread is very important. Now combine all the dry ingredients, the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, a pinch of salt and sugar. Mix well.

When the butter is melted, remove from the oven and add the melted butter to the dry ingredients, scraping as much of the melted butter from the pan as you can quickly do. At this point, everything rests on getting the mixed batter into the pan and into the oven as quickly as possible. Once the dry ingredients are moist, they begin to interact chemically with one another and if you want a light and fluffy cornbread, you cannot waste any time in this phase. 

I usually add the milk before the egg simply because I am afraid of solidifying any part of the egg with the hot oil  It's never happened, but somehow I remain afraid of it.  Mix all together until evenly moist, pour back into the hot pan and get it into the oven for 30 minutes at 400º F. Allow to cool before cutting and enjoy it, however you eat your cornbread.

So, ingredients aside, use a hot pan to pour the batter into, and once you have added moisture to the dry ingredients, working quickly is the most important part of making a good cornbread.  I hope you enjoy this once in a while.  

Maybe with hunks of Cheddar and bologna.  


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