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Cornbread (Part I)

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This is part of an essay-sort-of-thing I wrote for a book on cooking/life/memories in the South. It wasn’t used,  *sniff*, so I thought I’d include it here. This is the first half; the second half will appear next post.


“Staff of Life”


cornsbread: often made without milk or eggs and baked or fried (southern)


While I know they eat cornbread in other parts of the world—even in other parts of the South—they don’t eat my mama’s cornbread.  Hers is surely set apart; scratched into the dry cave walls of Anasazi legend and rained down as manna on the children of Israel wandering lost outside the Promised Land. 


A pinch, a scoop, a sprinkle; a splash, a dollop, a dusting; heaped-up or just the least little bit.  About that much, but not much more than that—these are words for measuring cornbread.  No recipe needed; my mother can tell by the way it looks and feels how it will turn out—literally—of the pan:  will it slide or stick or crumble? 


My mother prefers her corn meal coarse-ground, which gives more texture and allows the finished product to hold its own against the pressure of a knife smeared with cold butter.  Fine-ground meal equals cakey cornbread and cakey cornbread smacks of eggs and sugar; it is crumbling and delicate and no match for soup beans or stew. 


With a practiced motion, my mother draws a black iron skillet (always wiped out, never washed) from the maw of the oven where it’s been heating.  She leaves a potholder draped atop its handle as a “don’t touch!” warning to the household at large.  She edges the pale, grainy-gold batter toward the lip of the mixing bowl-that-used-to-be-green (permit a brief digression:  my mother is still using a set of vintage Pyrex mixing bowls—the ubiquitous yellow, green, red and blue set—that her sister gave their mother in 1950-something, and each one is still known by the name of the color it used to be), controlling its flow into the well-oiled, black iron hoop-sided skillet.  This is the moment of no return:  the bottom layer is instantly welded to its destiny; it will be crust.


To Be Continued…


About ltbrwnhare

A real Ashevillain, from the fabled town of Asheville, NC. There aren't too many of us "from here" any more, but don't ask about the secret handshake. Few people know I blog; they think I work for corporate America. I do. Both. There's probably a secret handshake for that, too. You can think of me as a "locavore," if you like: someone who consumes local food and culture. I'm not just local, though--I like finding out interesting stuff from all over the place, traveling, tasting, reading, writing fiction (actually, I write non-fiction--I just don't let my family read it and get mad at me for spilling the beans. There are some pretty funky beans to spill, sometimes, but that's just a fact of life in the South...), and lots of other things. If I think of them, maybe I'll blog about them.

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