There’s a lot to be said about cornbread in a hillbilly household. Depending on what area of the mountains you are from will greatly affect the ingredients in your recipe. Many kitchen wars have been waged over whether or not to use part cornmeal – part flour, hot water or buttermilk and perhaps the most divisive of all—sugar!! (I only have one thing to say about that… This is cornbread we’re talking about. It ain’t cake!)
To me, the best cornbread to eat with soup beans, chicken and dumplings or green beans is just plain, old cornbread. Here are some things I’ve learned over the years.
I always try to use white cornmeal when I can find it and not just any old white cornmeal. I prefer old fashioned or “unbolted” cornmeal. It’s stone ground using the whole kernel. It’s gritty in texture and has the most nutritional value. Unless you are going to finish off the bag quickly, it should be stored in the refrigerator or freezer because it contains the whole kernel and the “oil” stored there can go rancid if stored at room temperature and kept too long. This is the kind of cornmeal that my Grandpa Deaton ground on the old stone grist mill in his barn. (Yellow meal of the same type will work too.)
I also make my own “self-rising” mix and I do not add flour to my cornbread. For my mix, I add 1 tablespoon of baking powder and ½ teaspoon salt to every 1 cup of cornmeal. I make up a fairly large batch of this at a time and keep it stored in the refrigerator to use as needed.
I use buttermilk… I’ve tried water. I’ve tried regular milk. And to me, nothing works quite as good or gives that distinctive taste like buttermilk. And the best part about buttermilk, you can keep it well past the expiration date. With buttermilk, I always look at the expiration date as a “suggestion” date since it’s sour tasting to begin with how do you know when it’s gone bad?!!
And finally, always bake cornbread in a cast iron skillet. A hot skillet produces a crust and texture that a baking pan will never match.
So, with all that being said, I have more than likely scared you away from ever trying to make cornbread. That was never the intent. Cornbread is one of the easiest and tastiest “quick” breads to make and goes with a variety of different foods. I’m just sharing a few lessons I’ve learned over the past 30 or so years that have finally produced a consistent and tasty cornbread.
You can find my recipe on my blog here.