I didn't eat cornbread until I was in college. Blame it on being raised in a family that adored bread -- the kind with yeast in it and a crust.
My first introduction was a sweet, sticky-but-crumbly, bright-yellow square that sat next to my bowl of dorm-cafeteria chili. Slather on some butter and I was a happy freshman.
Later, when I moved into an apartment on campus, boxes of Jiffy Mix cornbread were a staple. Filling and cheap.
Then, I traveled with a friend to Georgia and North Carolina during spring break and found out about the war between the North and the South. No, not that one. The ongoing battle where Southern cooks say no sugar can touch their beloved cornbread.
I still remember my friend's aunt explaining it this way: "Say 'Give me some sugar' in the South and you better pucker up and expect to be kissed!"
It took this Northern girl no time at all to enjoy Southern cornbread. Yes, it was pale. It was gritty. It fell apart on my plate. But there was something about it -- maybe how it didn't compete with the flavors of other food -- that still appeals to me today.
And it's not as if I don't like my cornbread with sugar in it, or, a variety of other things, for that matter. Corn, peppers and cheese come quickly to mind.
So, here is a variety of old and new recipes for cornbread, as well as some new ways to use it. Plus, what would a story about cornbread be without a recipe for chili?
Southern cornbread tips
If you're making cornbread in a skillet, sprinkle a little cornmeal in the hot pan before adding the batter. It will brown and add a crispier texture.
For a crusty cornbread, make sure there is a good layer of oil or shortening in the pan.
If the recipe calls for an egg, you can substitute 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise.
You can use all cornmeal, or lessen the amount of flour in the recipe.
Instead of baking, fry the batter like pancakes.
If you have a cast-iron or other ovenproof skillet, please use that for this Southern no-sugar cornbread recipe. A regular 9- by 9-inch metal pan works well, too. Preheating either pan creates the crispiest crust. And if you want to swap in bacon fat for the butter, y'all go ahead.
This recipe is adapted from recipes by Cook's Country and Cook's Illustrated. If making this with frozen corn, the small shoepeg variety works particularly well. Thaw before pureeing.
FRESH CORN SKILLET CORNBREAD
2 1/4 cups fine-ground cornmeal
2 cups buttermilk
2 ears of sweet corn, kernels cut from cobs (about 1 to 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in 4 pieces
2 eggs, beaten
teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place rack in middle position. Place 10-inch cast-iron or ovenproof skillet or 9- by 9-inch metal pan in oven to preheat for 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together cornmeal and buttermilk. Set aside.
Process the corn kernels in a blender until very smooth, about 1 minute. Transfer to a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick and deep yellow, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Carefully add the oil to the hot skillet and continue to bake until oil is just smoking, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and add butter, carefully swirling pan until butter is melted. Pour all but 1 tablespoon of oil mixture into the cornmeal, leaving remaining oil mixture in pan. Whisk corn puree, beaten eggs, baking powder, baking soda and salt into cornmeal mixture until well-combined.
Pour mixture into the hot skillet and bake until top begins to crack and edges are golden brown, 20 to 22 minutes. Let cornbread cool in pan for 5 minutes. Place a plate over the top of cornbread, then carefully turn over the skillet until the cornbread releases. Then cover cornbread with a serving plate and flip it so it's right-side up. Serve warm.
Variations: Stir in 1/4 cup chopped jalapenos, 3/4 cup shredded Cheddar or Pepper Jack cheese, or 3 to 4 slices cooked and crumbled bacon just before baking.
Makes 12 servings, each with 230 calories, 10 grams fat, 400 mg sodium, 29 grams carbohydrates, 77 mg protein, 43 mg cholesterol, 2 grams fiber. Diabetic exchange: 2 bread/starch, 2 fat.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
For incredibly moist cornbread with beautiful color, add some pumpkin puree to a standard recipe. To keep your mixing bowl in place while you whisk your ingredients together, place a kitchen towel underneath the bowl before beginning.
1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/4 cup light brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling (*29*))
1 cup milk
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.
3. Whisk eggs in another large bowl until light and frothy. Add brown sugar and continue to whisk until incorporated. Whisk in butter and continue to whisk for 30 seconds until incorporated. Add pumpkin puree and milk to bowl and continue to whisk until mixture is smooth.
4. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients with a rubber spatula until just incorporated. Scrape into prepared pan and smooth top with a spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted into center of cornbread comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes, cut into 9 squares, and serve warm. Makes 9 servings.
1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup whole milk
Nonstick spray or shortening
1 1/2 cups whole-berry cranberry sauce or 1 (12-ounce) can
1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Once oven is hot, place a 10-inch cast-iron skillet inside to heat.
2. In a large bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt. Mix well with a fork or whisk.
3. Combine butter, honey and sugar in a microwavable bowl and heat until just melted, a few minutes on medium heat (or use a double boiler.) Let mixture cool a little. Whisk together eggs and milk, then add them to honey-butter mixture. Whisk all the while so eggs do not curdle.
4. Take cast-iron skillet out of the oven (using oven mitts). Spray with nonstick spray or wipe with shortening. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix swiftly with a spatula. Pour this into the hot pan. Pour cranberry sauce over batter and then swirl in with a knife as if you're making a marble cake. Place pan back in oven, reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake until top is golden and a cake tester comes out nearly dry, about 10 to 20 minutes. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
This corn bread is packed with flavor. It is made with cheese and chopped chiles and is finished with a drizzle of honey. And it's large enough to bake for company -- each recipe makes a 10-inch round.
HOTEL CONDON CORN BREAD
1 (15-ounce) can creamed corn
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup (4.25 ounces) flour
1 cup cornmeal, not stone-ground
3 tablespoons baking powder
1 small (4-ounce) can diced green chiles, drained
1 cup grated Mexican cheese blend
3 tablespoons honey, or as desired (up to 1/3 cup)
1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs. Whisk in the creamed corn, then the melted butter. Whisk in the sugar until fully combined.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal and baking powder. Slowly whisk the flour mixture into the large bowl until combined. Fold in the diced chiles and cheese until combined.
3. Spoon the mixture into a greased 10-inch round cake pan (with 3-inch walls) and smooth the top of the batter.
4. Bake until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool the bread for 15 minutes on a rack.
5. Invert the bread onto a platter and "frost" with the honey. Cool completely, then cut and serve.
Each of 16 servings: 190 calories, 5 grams protein, 23 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 9 grams fat, 61 mg cholesterol, 4 grams sugar, 420 mg sodium.
Los Angeles Times, adapted from chef Gail Stanfield of the Hotel Condon in Condon, Ore.
KATHY'S JALAPENO CORNBREAD
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup low-fat buttermilk
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 cup egg substitute (or 2 eggs)
1 cup frozen corn
1/2 cup sliced green onions
2 tablespoons minced jalapeno pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Combine first five ingredients in a large bowl. Add buttermilk, butter and egg substitute and stir just until moistened. Gently fold in corn, green onions, jalapeno and garlic.
Spoon batter into a 9-inch square pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes in the pan before serving.
Makes 9 servings, each with 180 calories, 3 grams fat , 32 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 4 grams protein, 287 mg sodium, 6 mg cholesterol.
Slightly adapted from a Cooking Light recipe
ELLEN'S HOT-WATER CORN BREAD
1 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch baking powder
1 teaspoon white sugar (see note)
1 tablespoon shortening
3/4 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon butter
Vegetable oil or bacon fat, for frying
In a medium-size bowl, combine cornmeal, salt, baking powder, sugar and egg. Add shortening.
While constantly stirring, slowly add boiling water until shortening melts, and the batter turns thick enough to drop by spoonfuls.
Add butter and stir until incorporated.
Pour vegetable oil or bacon fat to a depth of 1/2 inch in a large skillet and heat to 375 degrees. (Measure the temperature with a candy or deep-fry thermometer.)
Place heaping tablespoons of the cornmeal mixture into the hot oil. Fry, turning once, until crisp and light golden brown on both sides. (Total cooking time is about 5 minutes.) Repeat until all cornmeal mixture is cooked. Drain on paper towels and serve hot.
Note: Cooks who like sweeter corn bread may be tempted to add more sugar. Resist the urge; too much sugar will cause the dough to turn runny, like funnel cake, in the hot oil. Makes 12 servings.
Broccoli Cheddar Cornbread
2 (8.5-ounce) boxes corn muffin mix
1/2 cup whole milk
2 cloves minced garlic
1 (8-ounce) container cottage cheese
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Cheddar cheese
1 stick unsalted butter or margarine
1 medium onion, chopped
1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped broccoli, thawed but not drained
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9-by-9 pan.
Heat the butter in a skillet. Saute onions until softened, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and broccoli and saute for 2 more minutes.
In a medium bowl, stir together the cornbread mix, milk, cottage cheese, eggs, salt and 1 cup of the Cheddar cheese. Add in onion and broccoli mixture and stir just to combine well.
Pour batter into the pan. Sprinkle remaining Cheddar over batter. Bake until golden, 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for a few minutes, then serve.
Here is an unusual way to use cornbread.
1 recipe of cornbread
1 envelope ranch dressing mix, optional
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
1 cup mayonnaise
2 (16-ounce) cans pinto beans
2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
10 slices bacon, fried very crispy, and crumbled
2 cans whole kernel corn, drained
1/2 cup each of chopped red bell pepper, green bell pepper, green onions and several chopped tomatoes
Make up the cornbread, cool. Stir together salad dressing mix, sour cream and mayonnaise until blended; set aside. Combine tomatoes, bell peppers and onions. Toss gently. Crumble 1/2 of the cornbread into a large bowl. Top with half each of beans, tomato mixture, cheese, bacon, corn and dressing mixture. Repeat layers. Cover and chill for at least 3 hours before serving.
And what goes best with chili? Well, cornbread, of course.
White Chicken Chili
2 (14.5-ounce) cans white beans
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium jalapeno pepper, minced
2 medium poblano peppers, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 limes, juiced, plus lime wedges, for serving
1 rotisserie chicken, skin removed and meat shredded
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
Sour cream, for topping
Tortilla chips, coarsely crushed, for topping
Drain and rinse the canned white beans. In a medium bowl, mash half of the beans with a potato masher until chunky. Reserve the beans until needed.
Add the canola oil to a large Dutch oven and heat it over medium-high heat. Add the peppers, onions, and garlic and saute until soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Season the vegetables with salt, and pepper, to taste. Add the cumin, coriander, and chili powder and continue to saute for 1 more minute to toast the spices. Stir in the chicken stock, and lime juice and bring to a simmer. Add the beans and continue to simmer for 20 more minutes.
After 20 minutes of simmering, taste for seasoning, and adjust if necessary. Stir in the shredded rotisserie chicken and cilantro and simmer until heated through, about 5 more minutes. Serve the chili in individual bowls topped with a dollop of sour cream, crushed tortilla chips, and lime wedges.
Food Network's "Down Home With the Neelys" Patrick and Gina Neely