At the risk of being typecast as the cornbread writer, I have to share with you about a book I recently got. It’s called The Cornbread Gospels by Crescent Dragonwagon (you’ll have to ask her about that) heretofore known as CD, if you don’t mind. When I first heard of the book, I just knew it was going to be great fun to read. I was not disappointed.
I guess you’d have to call The Cornbread Gospels a cookbook, simply because it contains over 200 recipes. But it is fascinating and entertaining to read in a way that cookbooks usually are not. The story of cornbread is told from ancient history to modern tradition. The recipes range from regional favorites to international varieties and include recipes for using leftover cornbread, side dishes to go along with cornbread, and cornbread based desserts. Each recipe is accompanied by a short story or an explanation of why it is included.
In addition to the history and the recipes, the book also contains interesting snippets of trivia and helpful information, menu suggestions, a glossary of pantry items, and handy substitutions. CD’s observations on cooking were sometimes embarrassingly accurate. I must count myself among the southern cornbread makers who would not defile my grandmother’s skillet by baking cornbread with apples in it! (I was absolutely scandalized to even read of such a thing.)
With the author’s permission, I’m going to share a recipe with you that I cooked myself. I will add photos of the process. I wanted to try something a little different than what I am used to, so I chose Truman Capote’s Family’s Cornbread. It was southern enough to still be real cornbread, but contained cornmeal only and no flour, which is different from how I learned to make it.
Note a few differences between my pictures and the recipes: instead of buttermilk, I used almond milk with a little lemon juice in it (because my son doesn’t eat dairy or soy.) And I only made half a batch. My big oven doesn’t work and a 10” skillet won’t fit in my convection/toaster oven. I used a five or six inch skillet which was just enough for about half the recipe. Oh, and sadly I could not find stone-ground meal. I had to use the common stuff and I’m sure my experience suffered for it.
Truman Capote’s Family’s Cornbread
1 tablespoon butter or bacon drippings
2 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups stone-ground white cornmeal
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place the butter or drippings in a 10-inch cast iron skillet, and place it in the oven.
- Combine the eggs and buttermilk in a small bowl or measuring cup, whisking together well with a fork.
- In a medium bowl, combing the sugar, salt, baking soda, and cornmeal, stirring well to combine.
- Stir the egg mixture into the dry ingredients, beating just until dry ingredients are moistened, no more.
- Pull the skillet from the oven. It should be good and hot, with the fat sizzling. Swirl the pan to coat it. Quickly transfer the batter to the hot skillet and return the skillet to the oven.
- Bake until browned and pulling away from the skillet, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve hot, in wedges from the pan.
I cooked this while my five-year-old son was at school (so I could cook and take pictures in peace.) It was still nice and hot from the oven when he arrived home. He asked what smelled so good. When I told him cornbread, he asked if he could have a piece. I cut the cornbread into 8 small wedges and told him he could.
I went about my business and I heard him saying how delicious the bread was. A few minutes later, I went to the kitchen to finish dinner. I looked in the skillet and half the bread was gone. (Do growing boys NEVER stop eating?!) He had started on his 5th piece when I made him put it down and wait for dinner! You don’t know how lucky I am that there was any left for me to take this last picture. If I had been away for ten more minutes…
I served it along with CD’s Skillet-Fried Cabbage (recipe in the book) and what else could possibly go with that except home grown purple hull peas cooked with bacon?