It's a versatile quick bread that is considered by many to be the foundation of Southern regional cuisine. With roots running deep into the histories of corn-growing cultures, cornbread is one dish among many derived from corn.
Corn is paramount to the food cultures of many societies. For example, there's hominy -- ground hominy creates that other ubiquitous Southern starch, grits. Hominy, posole in Mexico, is ground to create masa harina -- the dough that wraps around the tamale.
In the Andes, ancient -- and modern cultures -- chew raw, dried corn, spit it into a fermentation vessel and brew a beer-like product, chicha. Modern craft brewer Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head, explored this style of brewing in an episode of his cable network television program, Brew Masters.
But it is the simple, easy-to-make pone of cornbread -- the recipe cooked in a round, cast iron skillet -- that sustained 19th century families, Civil War soldiers and continues to be a filling addition to any meal. Smear it with butter, crumble it into soups or a tall, cold glass of buttermilk but don't put off exploring this quick bread yourself.
Throw out the box. Cornbread premixes tend to be heavier on flour than cornmeal. Added sugar makes these premixes more like cake than cornbread. Sadly, many consider these mixes to be authentic -- nothing could be further from the truth.
Real cornbread, authentic cornbread, utilizes far more yellow cornmeal than flour. There is no sugar added -- the flavor leans toward corn, not candy,
Use a cast iron skillet. A baking dish just won't do. Cast iron lends integrity -- and the consistent, even heat it delivers insures a nicely browned surface and clean removal from the skillet. Make sure the skillet is well-seasoned, add a thorough rub of oil and you're ready to bake.
This is the recipe my grandmother used. Counting passing from generation-to-generation, it's been proven over 100 years or more of use.
1 1/2 c yellow corn meal
3/4 c flour
1 t salt
4 t baking powder
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/4 milk
1/4 c vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Mix all dry ingredients together. Stir eggs and oil into milk, blend well.
Add wet ingredients to dry mixture and combine thoroughly. Take care to work out any lumps, which will show as white spots in the finished cornbread.
Pour the cornbread batter into well-greased (aerosol spray is OK) skillet and bake 25-30 minutes until top is golden brown.