I got quite a response regarding my “Back to My Happy Place” post, so it has inspired me to do a 5ish part series that I am calling “A Southern Thanksgiving Celebration”. I will be doing at least one post per week over the next 5 weeks. This will put me finishing up the week before Thanksgiving, giving you time to get your groceries while they are still on sale! Can you believe that Thanksgiving is less than 6 weeks away???
First I want to talk about Southern cooking, my cooking…I guess by definition it is not necessarily Soul Food, but it is soulful. I believe the end result of cooking isn’t only about the ingredients and method, but about the care and thought that goes in. Some people just don’t care about cooking (and that is okay), but then they wonder why what they cook is disappointing (even when they follow the recipe to the letter). Now I’m not saying that every dish that emerges from the fires of my kitchen is a masterpiece, but I am saying that when you really care–it shows…everyone can appreciate that.
I could have combined this with an upcoming post, but I believe cornbread to be one of the most defining dishes of Southern cooking. I know that cornbread is not unique to the South, but I also know that we make it better here than anywhere else. I am talking about pure, unadulterated cornbread…NO SUGAR ADDED…the kind you bake in an old cast iron skillet.
To make this right, you really must have a very well-seasoned cast iron skillet, mine is approximately 10 inches for the recipe I am going to share. If you don’t have one, put it at the top of your Must Have list for the kitchen…I suggest finding one in your local antique shop, mine is a Wagner Ware. Prices vary greatly, some are collectible…you are looking for one that feels pretty heavy and is black all over. A little rust is okay, when you get it home wash it with a little, tiny bit of soapy water and dry IMMEDIATELY, then wipe it down with some vegetable oil (thin layer) and let sit in a warm oven for a few hours (I like to pop mine in while my oven is cooling after baking). Once you have done this initial step, soap & water washing is optional (depending on what you cook). Keep in mind that the odors of very fragrant things like fish, onion, & garlic can be absorbed by your pan. I reserve mine mostly for cornbread, but am thinking I will purchase another to use for a variety of other yummies.
Now the cornmeal…this is also very important. I have converted over to my mother-in-laws recipe (sorry Mom!), and it is delish, not that my Mom’s isn’t . You are going to need White cornmeal, preferably self-rising…this is pure cornmeal, no flour added. Here in the South you can get endless varieties (I like Tenda-Bake), but for my west coast friends you will have more of a challenge (as I did living in AZ for 7 years). If you have a grocery, like Fry’s in AZ, that sells Kroger brand (we have Kroger in parts of the South, not my parts)…they have Kroger brand white corn meal, and it is great! It comes in a little round cardboard container (similar to the kind oatmeal comes in), it is cheap, and delicious.
Like many Southern cooks, I keep a small container of bacon grease (I know, not exactly heart healthy) in the fridge…I put a small spoon in while I preheat my skillet (this is an important step…you must preheat the skillet!). If you don’t have bacon grease, a pat of butter (the good stuff, not margarine), or a bit of vegetable oil will suffice…but bacon makes it better!
Preheat oven (and skillet) to 425°
2 cups buttermilk
2 cups cornmeal
1½ teaspoons salt (or a little less, I use Kosher salt)
1 teaspoon baking soda
Mix it all up (I typically mix the wet together first, then add in the dry), pour it into preheated skillet. Bake for 20 minutes.
I hope you enjoy this as much as I do! It is a delicious accompaniment to a variety of dishes…soups, beans, etc…it is the perfect bread for your fall dinner!
Today’s secret revealed: real Southern cornbread does not contain sugar!