To use my Dad’s phrase, today I had a cravin’ flung on me. A craving for beans, greens and cornbread and the cornbread had to be the lacy-edged fried kind. It’s made from a batter consisting of cornmeal, salt and water and cooked on the stove top in a thin layer of vegetable oil until the edges are lacy, crispy and brown. That’s what cornbread meant to me as a child. The other kind of cornbread we ate was oven-baked and contained cornmeal, eggs, salt and baking powder and soda. My grandmother called it egg bread to distinguish it from the skillet type. Generally, we used yellow cornmeal for the egg bread and white fine-ground for the skillet type. Both were stone ground and neither of the cornbreads contained sugar.
I decided to go right to the source and called Mom. She’s been making cornbread for 60+ years and knows her stuff. My folks love the holy trinity of beans, greens and cornbread and accepted an invitation to dinner almost before I got the words out of my mouth! A few hours later while the fellows devoured a bowl of black-pepper pistachios, Mom and I got down to business. I’m lucky to have a local source for yellow stone ground cornmeal from heirloom corn. It’s ground fairly fine so was suitable for this recipe, even though it’s yellow.
The bad news is that we don’t measure anything in this three ingredient recipe except the cornmeal. Mom does it by feel. I think you can too. We mixed two cups of fine stone ground cornmeal with 3-4 generous pinches of salt and added water until the mixture started to look more like batter than dough. Then we added a splash more liquid so the batter would spread in the hot oil. We tasted the batter to check the salt level and added a little more. Salt is a personal thing so do what seems right to you. Since this was a new cornmeal to Mom, we did a test batch and then cooked the whole batch. In the old days, we used a cast iron skillet, but today it was ceramic non-stick.
The vegetable oil should be about 1/8 inch thick in the pan. When it’s good and hot, drop in a very tiny bit of batter. If it doesn’t crisp up pretty quickly, turn up the heat. Eat the sample and check for salt level. For the full-sized sample, drop about 1/4-1/3 cup of batter into the oil. It should spread some so that the edges become irregular and lacy. Add more water to the remaining batter if this doesn’t happen. Be patient and let it sizzle for a while. Mom only turns hers once, but that takes some practice. When it looks pretty solid, carefully turn the cornbread and cook the other side. It should be brown and crispy when done. Drain on paper towels and serve.
The cornbread was the perfect complement to the rest of the dinner: pinto beans, greens cooked all afternoon, sliced tomatoes and white rice. Condiments included chopped onion for the beans and hot-peppers in vinegar (made last summer) for the greens. We ate on the screened porch and it was good! Then we took our full selves out to tour the garden and visit the chickens. Finally, we headed for the front porch rocking chairs to watch the sunset. No dessert required.