I’ve never read a cornbread recipe that comes close to what I grew up with. As PorterBriggs.com is The Voice of the South™ and cornbread is for most of us a religious experience, I thought I’d share this recipe and see if I am, indeed, singing solo or if there is a choir of us out there cooking cornbread this way: We don’t use bacon grease; we only use Crisco®.
Based on other family food history (one small example being that although she was an upstanding member of the church where her husband taught adult Sunday School, my great-grandmother broke the law during World War II by hoarding sugar in her attic), my theory about the lack of bacon grease is that our mountain folk only had pork once a year (around Christmas), so pork fat was not as ubiquitous in their cooking as it was/is elsewhere in the South. The 1911 introduction of the highly touted new product, Crisco®, was a welcome addition to and substitute for that precious, rare bacon grease and thus “Moms” developed our cornbread recipe.
We also only use self-rising cornmeal, a product patented in the mid-nineteenth century to improve the rise given over adding things like salt and baking powder/soda to regular corn meal at home. Moms was about ease and efficiency.
Now for the fightin’ words: Our cornbread has no sugar (damn Yankees), no flour, no baking powder, no baking soda, no salt, no chopped bacon, repeat—no bacon grease, no corn kernels, no red pepper flakes, no jalapeno slices, no nothin’ else. Some or all of these intrusions, impurities, and insults will, indeed, make a tasty concoction some people call cornbread. Not according to Moms. She was all about true religion.
Here, then, is the cornbread my great-grandmother made. Since she married a mountain doctor in Madison County, about as far back in the North Carolina hills as you can get without falling over into Tennessee where he came from (Unicoi County), I call it mountain cornbread.
Enough jawin’. Start chewin’.
A hot oven (425F)
A cast iron pan (8 inches or 10 inches; see below)
A tableware spoon for soup to act as a tablespoon measure
For a small batch (8-inch pan):
One cup of self-rising cornmeal
One cup of buttermilk
For a larger batch (10-inch pan):
Two cups of self-rising cornmeal
Two cups of buttermilk
Put one generous spoonful-bordering-on-two of shortening into a cold cast iron pan for a small batch; make it two-almost-four for the large batch.
Put the pan in the hot oven and go about your business.
Mix the cornmeal, egg(s), and buttermilk together.
When the shortening is really, really hot (almost but not smoking), pull the pan out of the oven and add the hot fat to the cornmeal mixture. It should sizzle with a capital S.
Stir in the fat as fast as you can (use a fork) and immediately pour the mixture into the hot pan. That should sizzle too.
Bake for about 40 minutes, but start checking for the telltale golden color of cooked cornbread around 30 minutes, as ovens vary.
Turn out the bread onto a cooling rack or serving plate, slice, and do the right thing: Eat.
SEE ALL MOUNTAIN CORNBREAD PHOTOS HERE