You eat a 1/2 a skillet of cornbread for dinner.
Let me explain. It it has gotten cold. It is dark. It is soup and cornbread season. I have not made either since last March. But since watermelon, Cherokee Black tomatoes, cantaloupe and ears of corn are not readily available from a farm stand nor currently edible from a grocery store, I am forced to face the truth. Winter is coming.
Tonight I made my first batch or soup, a vegan soup with portabella mushrooms, celery, onion, carrot, sweet potato, wild rice, coconut milk and kale. And I made my first batch of cornbread. Two truths that I hold dear are, I get tired of a batch soup quickly and leftover cornbread is only enjoyed by dogs. I sent half of the soup and cornbread home with a neighbor. I tasted my soup knowing it would be better tomorrow. I did not mean to eat my half of the cornbread, but I did. I am not sorry.
My parents and their parents and so on are native Kentuckians. Heck, one of them crossed the the Cumberland Gap with old Daniel Boone. All this to say my Kentucky street cred is the real deal. This means cornbread is in my ancestral DNA. No matter how highfalutin I get, I am called the my roots like a spawning salmon.
This is not a cooking blog, but I will give you the top secret to my cornbread, my grandmother’s skillet. When I got it after her passing, I had hard work in front of me. Years of neglect and no use had left it rusted. I had to work out the rust, dust and old grease trapped beneath it with elbow grease, salt and then rounds of low heat over a long time in an oven. The effort to strip and cure the old black cast iron beauty paid off. I make a perfect batch every time.
Other secrets: only cornbread is allowed in my precious, inherited skillet. I use stone ground white cornmeal, leveling, a pinch of sugar, egg and buttermilk. Jiffy is not worthy of my skillet. The other secret is the oil. I use bacon grease. I do not cook bacon nor eat bacon, but I have resources. I may eat vegan soup, but I am not a vegan. Do not suggest the blasphemy that is vegan cornbread. If it is your deal, great, but I am not willing to not risk ancestral ire. Heck, most of my ancestors lived well into their 90’s, so I don’t think it was the cornbread that got them.
I dollop the bacon grease into my skillet and pop it into the oven as it nears temperature. Once the oven is good and hot, I carefully pull the skillet out and pour in my cornmeal mixture. The mix pops and sizzles as the hot grease comes up and over the outer edges of the of the creamy white mush. Heaven is 20 to 25 minutes away.
Once done and beautifully browned, I flip the round onto a plate and cut a pie wedge. I slice through the middle and add a thin schmear of ghee or butter. The heat between the top and bottom halves quickly distributes the creamy, salty goodness. As we say down South, OH MY. No other words are necessary.
I will keep eggs and buttermilk in my fridge until March. In the deepest, darkest days of winter I will make a spicy green pozole and spoon bread. Pozole over spoon bread for dinner and spoon bread and sorghum for dessert. Heck, I may just skip the pozole.
I keep a social schedule long after Christmas as I receive dinner invitations that include my skillet as my plus one. I cheaply feed my neighbors and their souls with cornbread and soup. The healing power of cornbread calls out to the lost but now found pitiful souls who never had it before moving South and living near me.
While I have no use for the cold, gray days and dark nights of winter, I will be sustained by the substance that has fed many generations long before me. Long live cornbread.