THE Cornbread recipe and the secret ingredient
Mama has been gone a long time, and I miss her every day. Her humor, her feistiness and her huge, generous heart are qualities I can never hope to attain; all I can do is be grateful when a little piece of her shines through me and gives people who never knew her a glimpse of what a true Southern woman is like. Mama was a true original and, among other things, an excellent Southern cook.
Mama’s cooking was never fancy, but it was always tasty. I remember the rump roasts she used to make in her little beat-up aluminum roasting pan, cooking low and slow until the whole house smelled of beefy goodness. She made chili in a Revere Ware Dutch oven, sometimes boiling up a bunch of church lady hot tamales to go with it. She made lots of delicious foods that fed both body and soul. But for me, the most memorable of Mama’s signature dishes was her cornbread.
It was a well-practiced recipe that she could have made with her eyes closed and one arm tied behind her back. While our Granny was alive, she wanted a “dodger of bread” every day to eat with her lunch, and to enjoy the leftovers later on. So it didn’t matter if it was 112 degrees in the sweltering August heat, Mama fired up the oven every day to make Granny her cornbread. Just a few simple ingredients, the right skillet and half an hour in a very hot oven were all it took to make magic.
I think, though, that the real secret to Mama’s cornbread was the love she stirred in. Love seasoned the black cast iron skillet, flavoring the humble mixture of meal, buttermilk, bacon grease, water and time to create something mouthwatering and soul-satisfying. Daily bread, indeed.
My brother, Reed, recently found the recipe that Mama had written down for him long ago, and he shared it with me. Most likely she wrote it down for him before he moved away from Knoxville the first time, so he would be able to make it for himself, nourishing his belly and his spirit. (I had watched her make cornbread countless times when I lived at home, and occasionally after I got married and moved out, so she knew I knew how to make it.) Simply named “Mom’s Cornbread”, it lists the staples needed to make the mixture and gives the baking instructions.
Grease the skillet, mix the meal, bacon grease, buttermilk and water to “the right consistency”. You’ll know it when you see it. All she didn’t write down was, don’t forget to stir in the love. The Secret Ingredient is the most important one of all.