Sunday, July 19, 2015

"Life is just a bowl of butter beans"

Life is just a bowl of butter beans
Pass the cornbread, if you please
I don't want no collard greens
All I need is a bowl of butter beans

And so It begins ....

Ma'maw Cordie's black-skillet cornbread with Not'cho Daddy's dirty beans.

.... with a pan of Southern cornbread and a pot of beans.

Original FB post, July 16, 2015 ~

Something I had never -- as in NOT EVER -- done before; made my Ma'maw's Southern Iron skillet cornbread. This is traditional, down-home cornbread of corn meal, a touch of flour, baking powder, salt, pinch of white sugar, an egg, buttermilk, bacon fat and butter.

What's your favorite cornbread recipe?
 — with Annie Miller..

Lifted from Doug McCoy
This summer of 2015, I tell you, is not the best of times for a Son of the South. Often times I imagine sitting down with my Elders going back to Knoxville, GA, in the 1830s. The crooked little man with the bushy beard is John Sanford Saunders, Great Grandfather on Mom's side, CSA combat veteran, and my oldest Patriarch. Next to Old John is his last-born boy Wiley Preston Saunders, my Grandfather; and at his right side, his last-born baby girl, my Mom, Gracie Ellen Saunders.
We all know "The Look", don't we.

As I was saying .... That little post on cornbread and beans provoked more than a few comments:

"I like a buttermilk recipe, too. It's very close to yours, but I've never added bacon drippings before. I, too, use my grandmother's cast-iron skillet."

"Martha White (lol) with a bit of sugar and chopped jalapenos. Pour half batter in a hot iron skillet, spread shredded cheese, then pour rest on top & bake."

"I have my great-grandmother's skillet," the widow Vernon allowed. There's a character! Regular readers will, no doubt, be reading more from Liz by the by.

"The best comfort food will always be greens, cornbread, and
fried chicken." ~ Maya Angelou

 Elise over at Simply Recipes offers this take on Southern cornbread.

2 cups cornmeal OR 1 1/2 cups cornmeal and 1/2 cup flour

  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp sugar (optional)
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
  • 1 egg (optional)
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 Tbsp bacon drippings

This is a solid base from which to set out and explore, but keep in mind these two essential points:
     1. No two cooks make the same cornbread, and 
    2. No cornbread baker worth his salt measures.

I like the three-to-one (3-1) cornbread-to-floor ratio; makes for a good crumb. Really old school cooks will insist on leaving out the flour altogether. This harkens back to cornbread's early people .... <Cue the Dream Weaver music!"

First Cornbread was whooped up by Native American Peoples using only ground corn, salt and water many moons before there was a Columbus to dream of a New World. Different regions of the New World to-be had differing varieties of corn. Blue corn, for instance, was favored in the Southwest, while yellow corn grew best up North. Down South folks, naturally, were used to white corn. White corn likewise would give The South grits, hominy and that shameful feeling of white supremacy.

No sooner had the White Eyes arrived to discover a plethora of great cornbreads when they went to monkeying with the indigenous, native mixes. Northern insurgents soon were fortifying native cornbreads with honey, molasses, even white sugar when they could get it. Below the as yet undiscovered Mason/Dixon, however, no backwoods redneck would be caught dead with sweet cornbread in his poke.

Sweet vs Not Sweet remains the basis for many a Great Unpleasantnesses to this day! Note the "(optional)" appended to the "1 to 2 Tbsp sugar" in Elise's recipe above. Even in a Southern savory bread, a pinch or two of white sugar helps make the other component flavors pop without a sweet taste coming through.

Now, Mom's people were all solid South. Dad's folks, on the other hand, were Upper Midwest, right along the Ohio-Michigan line. So my own personal favorite cornbread mix is 3-to-1 yellow cornmeal-to-floor and a healthy handful of sugar. Yeah, it's sweet, and Mom always swore I never got it from her!

Buttermilk by all means. I mean, buttermilk to drink ain't worth the spittin' out, but it is essential in cornbreads, biscuits and all kinds of cakes.

To my way of making it, the egg is NOT optional. Don't skimp on the butter, neither! If half a stick is good, the whole damn stick is better!

Now to the bacon drippings. Do NOT add this fat to the mix! Every precious last drop of it goes into that large, black cast-iron skillet you should have prepped before you ever started mixing up a batter. So set the oven on 400F, put the bacon fat in the skillet, and set the skillet in the oven. NOW go to making a batter.

Dry mixes with dry and wet with wet. Combine wet and dry in a large mixing bowl (prefer glass) just until the blend is uniform and a bit bubbly. Don't over-stir it.

When -- and not until -- your skillet is screaming hot, carefully remove it from the oven and dump all the batter straight way into the smoking fat. Yeah, it's gonna bubble and sizzle like Satan's own tea around the edges, but never you mind that. Get that skillet back into the oven immediately, if not sooner.

Figure on 20 minutes, but your oven will vary. Keep an eye on it, but don't go opening that oven door no sooner than 15 minutes. We're looking for a rich golden brown top. Once out of the oven, let it set off-heat in the pan for another good 20 minutes.

IF you can wait that long ....

Photo stolen from Rick Ross

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