Thursday, November 13, 2008

The *Art* of Cornbread...rural-style


I made a huge pot of sausage and white bean soup for church last night. And Johanna made some brownies. We also made cornbread.

I didn't have any crackers :o( I certainly would have done anything I had time for or could think of to avoid the dreaded cornbread. but with only an hour left and still no clue, I went for the cornbread and prayed no one would laugh too much.

Yes, I have iron skillets. I don't use them as much as I should or could, but I do have them. And I know that in the South, or at least on my mountain of it, iron skillets are the only way to make proper cornbread.

I used a 9x13 regular cake pan. Shame, shame.

Oh, it looked decent enough. It smelled well enough...more like corn than I would have thought. We only had 4 men, 2 women and 11 children at church -- a typical Wednesday turn-out, really.

There is apparently an art to southern cornbread, and it varies with the area you are in. My mountain area here is just plain folk, poor dirt farmers (or in our case, clay farmers). First issue (go ahead, Debi, laugh...you told me so...) was my cornbread was yellow. We did joke about putting some red coloring in the batter and calling in Indian corn...Debi suggested blue for Blue corn. I don't think either would have gotten a different reaction, though. Yellow was enough.

Gasp! Yellow cornmeal. The travesty. Oh, the injustice!

After that wore off, they conceded to at least try it, out of civility and Southern politeness, I imagine. They only laughed a bit, and in a nice way. And no one spit out their piece across the table...although I suspect that was more out of that inbred sense of Southern politeness as well. You know, that old "Grandaddy would wear out my backside if I spit my food out at the table" kind of upbringing ;o)

My second issue was my cornbread contained sugar. Well, brown sugar, actually, but still it had sugar in it. Some sort of Cardinal Sin, I gather. Apparently it's as shameful as using teflon-coated pans in the South.

My history explains itself, I think. I was born in California and raised in northern Illinois. Never lived anywhere else growing up. My family roots are more northern than that -- middle Wisconsin. Not a southern bone in our bodies. Cornbread on our table meant Jiffy boxes in the garbage can. Cornbread had little to do with actual corn...it was just a sweet bread that happened to be yellow...apparently too sweet by true Southern standards.

Bro Mike had one piece. LOL....a small piece, cut off the end of my middle daughter's already small piece :o) He about died when asked if he wanted butter on it! I'm not sure Bro Odene had any at all; his wife has been ill and he left after teaching on Revelation. Bro Grady, I think, had a piece. Bro Bud, our Pastor and Godly example there at church....he took a bite and quietly slipped his napkin to his mouth :o) Yes...I was watching. They knew it, too. And I warned everyone ahead of time that I made no claims as to the 'eatability factor of my cornbread.'

Bro Mike was nice enough to explain it all to me. Growing up on this mountain, you had a couple of folks within a distance who had a grist mill. That's where everyone went. Most years, you ground up simple corn...yellow. But on a good year, or as he put it 'when we were uptown and 2 of us were working' (or as Bro Grady put it, "Son, when you got a pay job") you bought your meal from the mill...fancy white meal. An even better show of accomplishment was to afford that 2# bag at the store...self-rising white meal.

In our area, I defy you to find a store that sells anything besides white, self-rising meal. It's next door to impossible. I have to drive for anything not self-rising, let alone yellow. Just plain mountain folk around here....who evidently all have a pay job ;o)

Bro Mike explained his Mawma's way of makin' pone....you grab you a good handful, well for your family, maybe 3 handfuls, of meal and toss it in a pan. you can dump in an egg if you have any, maybe 2 or 3 for your brood. Then you add in some good cold buttermilk. Enough to make it a pancake batter....thin, but not too thin. Add you about that much good lard (about a tablespoon or so, I gathered from the gesture) and stir it up good. Pull your skillet out of the oven -- I should have put that skillet in an unbelievably hot oven before I started, with about that much lard melted into it...a good half inch or better -- pour that pone into it. It should sizzle just a little when it hits the oil. Pour it all in. You'll have oil ride up the batter -- that's what I want. Don't touch it. Let it ride up there with the pone. Put that skillet back in the oven -- about 500 -- and watch it. Watch it close. When the top of the pone is the color of our kitchen chairs (a medium brown/russet color), pull it out and take it to the table.

As we left, I was reminded of this....and told to skip those Jiffy boxes unless I wanted sweet bread.

Those cast iron skillets I have several of but don't use....here's what I found (and need to do):

Seasoning Cast Iron

Seasoned Cast Iron can be considered the "grandfather" to today's "non-stick" cookware.

Cast Iron Cookware must be seasoned properly and it will last a life-time. ( I still use my Grandmother's cast iron skillets on a regular basis and they must be at least 60-70+ years old.)

New Pans

  1. Heat the oven to 250o - 300o
  2. Coat the pan with lard or bacon grease. Don't use a liquid vegetable oil because it will leave a sticky surface and the pan will not be properly seasoned.
  3. Put the pan in the oven. In 15 minutes, remove the pan & pour out any excess grease. Place the pan back in the oven and bake for 2 hours.

Repeating this process several times is recommended as it will help create a stronger "seasoning" bond.

Also, when you put the pan into service, it is recommended to use it initially for foods high in fat, such as bacon or foods cooked with fat, because the grease from these foods will help strengthen the seasoning.

Pans needing Re-Seasoning

If the pan was not seasoned properly or a portion of the seasoning wore off and food sticks to the surface or there is rust, then it should be properly cleaned and re-seasoned.

  1. Remove any food residue by cleaning the pan thoroughly with hot water and a scouring pad. I understand that heating the pan first to a temperature that is still safe to touch helps open the pores of the metal and makes it easier to clean.
  2. Dry the pan immediately with dish towel or paper towel.
  3. Season the pan as outlined above.

Caring for Cast Iron Cookware

Seasoning a cast iron pan is a natural way of creating non-stick cookware. And, like you cook and clean the modern non-stick cookware with special care to avoid scratching the surface, your cast iron cookware wants some special attention too.

  • Clean the cookware while it is still hot by rinsing with hot water and scraping when necessary. Do not use a scouring pad or soap (detergent) as they will break down the pan's seasoning.
  • Never store food in the cast iron pan as the acid in the food will breakdown the seasoning and the food will take on a metallic flavor.
  • Store your cast iron cookware with the lids off, especially in humid weather, because if covered, moisture can build up and cause rust. Should rust appear, the pan should be re-seasoned.

When you purchase cast iron cookware, they are medium gray in color, but after usage, they start turning darker. (My pans are very black in color.) This is normal and should be expected.

And another:

I keep a one pound package of pure lard in my fridge. After I have dried and cooled the iron skillet, I rub a liberal coating of the lard over the inside of the skillet, being sure to coat the sides as well as the bottom. Next, I place it on a burner again, heat it over low heat until hot, and then let it cool. After it has completely cooled, I wipe out the excess lard with a paper towel. I let it sit until completely cold, then heat it again and wipe out the lard again. I let it again cool until completely cold. Coat once again with lard and repeat the process. This time, however, after wiping out the excess, the skillet is now ready to be put away until needed.

Each time after you use the skillet, do not clean with soap unless you have cooked something sticky in it, or made sauce or gravy. To clean, pour boiling water in the skillet, leave standing for 5 minutes or so, pour out the water and wipe clean. Dry well, then recoat with a thin layer of lard. Put away until next use.

There is a reason for the way these steps are done. For instance, after wiping dry, the skillet is further dried by heating. This is because the cast iron is porous and water can get in the pores. Although unseen, it may cause rust and will likely interfere with the seasoning process. The reason for seasoning is to fill these minute pores with lard. The more lard packed into the pores, the more 'non-stick' the skillet becomes. Boiling water is used to clean the skillet for the same reason. Soap can get into the pores and if not well rinsed, can affect the flavor of foods cooked in the skillet. You will, from time to time, have to use soap, so be sure to rinse well with very hot or boiling water to remove all soap. Then season as above.

In the case of stuck food, or stubborn stuck-on burnt food, a piece of steel wool or a soap filled scouring pad may be used. Just remember to rinse well.

Cast ironware is virtually indestructible with one exception: if dropped on a hard surface, or banged with something, they will crack. It takes a pretty good blow, but they will shatter, especially if cold. Many a camper has learned that lesson by dropping one on a rocky surface during a cold spell. Otherwise, with a little care, they can last a lifetime and the more they are used, the better they are and the more non-stick they become.

8 comments:

Aimee Kieffer, aka "Momzoo" said...

That is a great story! I would be in big trouble too with my cornbread! LOL!

Mrs. Trixi said...

Bro. Mike has my process down perfectly, except I skip the lard and use oil or butter. Ofcourse, my grandmother would roll over if she knew that but I think mine may clog a few less arteries.LOL

Oh, and I do love my cast iron. Since we got rid of the microwave, I use my cast iron for just about everything.

Your story was hillarious and I am quite sure your cornbread was just fine.

Michelle said...

I'd have loved your cornbread! :) They call it "spoonbread" in KY where my parents live (I'm in GA).... not my favorite... I guess I'm not completely transformed into a complete Southern girl yet. :) ~Michelle

Deborah said...

WEll I woulds have LOVED your cornbread!!
I love and make yellow sweet cornbread unless it is to go with pinto beans(per my dh)and I was bron and raised in the south,near south Georgia ,north Florida

Anonymous said...

OK...I am southern born and southern bred..On either side of my family we are true southerners as far back as you can go..We don't have much to brag about..but we do know our cornbread..I make cornbread EVERY night of the week, with very few exceptions..I grew up eating it every night because my daddy said he couldn't sleep at night unless he ate his milk and bread. This is my recipe and the one I was raised on..if you would care for it..I use my cast iron skillet(of course)..and grease it very well with shortening, then I put that into a HOT oven (400*)..then I take my white corn meal (yellow is fine but you have to mix it half and half with white) a couple of eggs, Buttermilk is a must and you stir all this into a thin batter..then take your hot skillet out of the oven, pour your batter into the pan and usually increase the temp to 425*..Bake it until it is dark golden brown on top..take it out and butter if you wish. There is no better eating in this world. By the way, I agree with the christian comedian who said that put the sugar in the tea, not the cornbread..sugar+bread+cake!! ha, ha
I love your blog and am a regular reader...Jana

Anonymous said...

I had to giggle when I read your post on cornbread. My husband was raised in rural Georgia. On a visit to see my FIL I prepared supper. I had fried chicken, real mashed potatoes, corn and for kicks,corn bread. A real southern meal if I do say so myself. Well my FIL in the nicest way possible let me know that I had not made cornbread, but I had made yellow cake. Well being the northern Indiana Hoosier girl that I am. I just smiled and thought that if I wanted cornmeal that wasn't sweet I would have just stuck my head in the cornmeal bag. Long live sweet corn bread northern style!
LOL
In Christ
Dawn

As Simply As We Can said...

Wow, I didn't know different Southerners fixed it different ways. Here, it had better be yellow AND a tad sweet, lol. We even swirl on some honey over the top before baking it. Cast iron, yes it has to be in cast iron that's already been preheated in the oven.

I never, never use soap on my cast iron. It wears the seasoning off. I heat up water in my tea kettle and pour it in to loosen up anything stuck on. And after drying it always put it in a hot oven (I generally put it in a 200 degree oven)to finish drying. I usually rub in some more Crisco as well to keep the seasoning going.

I guess everyone has their own way of doing it!

Linda said...

Thanks for the seasoning information! I've been using oil--ACK!
I'm new to your blog and I've enjoyed my brief visit. I'll be back often.
Thanks, again.

Jer.6:16

Jeremiah 6:16
Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.

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