Cornbread is a distinctly Southern dish.
I know this for sure because my Aunt Ruby told me. If it had to do with food, especially Southern food, Aunt Ruby was the expert.
Because Aunt Ruby and Uncle John lived on the Davis family farm in Crewe, Va., we used to visit them every summer. It gave my father a chance to visit his childhood home and relatives, and it gave the rest of us a chance to visit the farm.
I have vivid memories of my time spent there. The farm had no TV and there were no kids around for me to play with so I had to entertain myself. I learned how to catch crawfish in the creek, slop the hogs, gather eggs in the hen house, and ride Pete, the big, white mule, bareback.
I remember how bright the stars were at night in the country, the taste of cold spring water, being tucked into bed under one of my grandmother’s quilts, the sound of rain on a tin roof, and the wonderful aromas coming from Aunt Ruby’s kitchen. I was fascinated by her kitchen.
The kitchen had a wood stove as well as an electric stove. Aunt Ruby used both of them depending on what she was making. Breads and cakes came from the electric stove, while fried chicken and stew were cooked on the wood stove. The kitchen table was always covered with a flowery vinyl tablecloth. Because I was too short to reach my plate, Aunt Ruby put a big thick Sears and Roebuck catalog on my chair for me to sit on. Problem solved.
It was at that table that I ate my first cornbread. One afternoon I was lucky enough to be in the kitchen when Aunt Ruby took some fresh cornbread out of the oven (the electric one). She gave me a big slice and a glass of fresh buttermilk to go with it. I spread lots of butter on the cornbread and sprinkled salt on top of the buttermilk (I can’t remember why). The combination of buttered cornbread and salted buttermilk just may be the best afternoon snack I’ve ever eaten.
I’d love to say I have Aunt Ruby’s recipe for cornbread but I don’t. I’m not even sure she had one. She just cooked things from memory without using exact measurements. She added a “pinch of this and a pat of that” as she cooked, and things always came out perfectly. I’d love to know how she did it.
The good news is that there are lots of recipes for cornbread around. No good Southern cookbook would be complete without at least one recipe for cornbread – or corn pone, as Aunt Ruby sometimes called it. The bad news is that no two recipes are the same. Like barbecue sauce and chili, everyone seems to have their own version. I, too, have mine.
My recipe for cornbread has some cheddar cheese and a touch of honey in it. I think these two ingredients make mine the best ever, except for Aunt Ruby’s.
If you want authenticity, sit on an old Sears and Roebuck catalog at a table covered with a flowered vinyl tablecloth. Spread lots of butter on some warm cornbread and have a cold glass of buttermilk to go with it – sprinkled with salt, of course.
Joy’s Southern Cornbread
I stick butter
1 cup of cornmeal
1 cup all purpose flour
1T. baking powder
½ t. salt
1 1/3 buttermilk
½ cup grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Put butter, cornmeal, flour, baking powder, egg, and salt in a food processor. Blend for 20 -30 seconds. Add buttermilk, cheese, and honey and process for 20 seconds more until thoroughly mixed.
Pour into a greased 6x6 inch pan and bake for 40 minutes. Cut into squares and serve warm. Serves 4-6 people.