Well, it’s that time of year, and “cornbread” seems to be the topic of friendly but intense argument in the blogosphere in 2021. It ranks up there with “dressing or stuffing” among Americans from certain regions as a topic that can be – and is – argued with religious fervor.
A note for my readers from outside the US and Canada, at least those who have not encountered this particular dish before. What Americans call cornbread is made from ground maize. It is rarely eaten outside North America, as best I can tell. The grind of the grain is different from that used for polenta, and the grain is not treated the way maize used for tortilla flour is processed before grinding. The resulting baked good does not rise like wheat bread, and is more crumbly because of the lower gluten content. However, it is a native food, and in some parts of the country, was (or is) the main starch that accompanies many meals. So cornbread is yellow, low-rising, and generally crumbly. You can’t slice it the way you do wheat breads. But we love it anyway.
When you start asking people about family cornbread recipes, the line falls on “sugar in the dough” and “no sugar in the dough.” Some people will allow a little wheat flour and baking powder added in, others add egg, there’s “rye-n-Injun” which is a rye-cornmeal bread, and others prefer fried cornbread to baked cornbread. All discussion of those topics seems to pale when compared with the intensity and fervor that accompanies “with sugar or without?”
Purists insist that “bread” means “no sugar.” Unlike wheat breads, where the sugar helps encourage the yeasts to do their thing and cause the dough to rise, or sweetened breads that are supposed to have sugar (or honey, or molasses, or . . . ) cornbread does not need yeast-food. The chemistry doesn’t require sugars. Hot-water cornbread, the ne plus ultra of minimalist cornbread has nothing but very hot water, cornmeal, shortening (lard, bacon-grease, or vegetable shortening) and salt. It can be baked or fried. Cornbread is for workin’ folks, farm folks, it’s not fancy. Light-bread is fancy, and for special occasions only. Cornbread is what you eat to fill the hole when you start running out of bacon or salt-pork to go with the beans and collards (or turnip greens). Or the New England version thereof, because New Englanders leaned on cornbread for quite a while, back when.
Other people add a pinch of sugar, just because. The result should not be sweet. Others make a sweet cornbread, just like some people add canned corn to the mix, or cheese, or jalapenos, or other things. Flour can make a soft, not-crumbly cornbread, more of a fluffy quick bread with corn in it. But that’s not “real cornbread.” One of the blogs I frequent almost had a knives-out argument recently over sugar or no sugar. This is a place where we can talk religion, politics, handgun caliber, domestic or imported motorcycle, you name it (other than cornbread) without resorting to violence. Cornbread . . . is a sensitive topic among a group of Southerners, or at least people who grew up on “poverty food.”
At RedQuarters, we add a bit of sugar.
1 cup yellow corn meal
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour (not self-rising)
1/4 C. sugar (can be omitted. We leave it in.)
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder.
1 C. milk
1/4 C shortening.
Preheat oven to 425 F.
Sift together the dry ingredients. Add egg, milk, and shortening. Beat until smooth. Bake in greased 8″ square pan in a hot oven for 20-25 minutes. Best served warm with butter and honey, or molasses, or sorghum syrup, or apple butter. Or served with butter to go with something that has a sauce that needs to be sopped up (collards, turnip greens, bean soup . . .)
To me, it does not taste sweet.
Note: this recipe does not keep well. It goes rancid in as few as three days if you do not eat all of it, refrigerate it, or use it in other things (dressing for the turkey/duck/goose/ham).
Edited to add:
“Jiffy” is a brand of cornmeal with flour and other things pre-mixed in. It’s like Bisquick™ for rolls, pancakes, and biscuits, except you use “Jiffy” for cornmeal-based baking. https://site.jiffymix.com/
A “chub” of sausage is the small, blunt-ended cylinder of ground sausage (breakfast sausage), usually packed in a soft wrapper so you can either trim off the end and squeeze the sausage out like toothpaste into a bowl or pan, or you can use a sharp knife, cut the chub into slices, and remove the wrapper from each slice. Then you have home-made, thick, sausage patties.