I don’t talk about my personal life often, but the few times things do come out about my past, it should not come as a surprise to know that my younger days were filled with something known in American cuisine as “soul food”. Big, black cast iron skillets on a stove, with bacon fat drained off to save money, to be reused during cooking. Fried chicken. Sun tea. Coleslaw. Cornbread. It’s the type of food that got poor folks by in the Great Depression, that was made in the farmhouses and back swamp shanties before Social Security was established. It’s cheap, made with what is abundant, and took centuries to perfect. It was the United States’ answer to the so-called Peasant Dishes of France.
Unless you experienced it, you can’t understand it. It’s the reason that everyone who had a background on the poorer sides of the tracks can raise their hands and say, “Hallelujah!” when Oprah Winfrey told her horrified, privileged audience that they had not lived until they had learnt the art of adding a touch of bacon grease to green beans to add flavor. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. She was doing God’s work when she spread the word.
That last one … cornbread. I have loved it from the first time I tried it. I could skip dinner and be content with a plate of fresh, warm cornbread, drizzled in a bit of honey. It is so simple, so basic, and so American. Though it is mostly a Midwestern and Southern thing, debates over what should go in a cornbread can get as passionate as fights over religion or politics.
I was looking through some off beat places around the Internet and came across a site called Byron’s Dutch Oven Recipes. It looks to be made mostly for campers who use briquettes from a camp fire to cook in a traditional cast iron dutch oven, but he mentions oven settings on the main page of the site so you can adapt the recipes for a traditional kitchen.
This afternoon, I tried his Best Ever Cornbread recipe, which serves a lot of people – the entire thing is deep dish and contains roughly 6,300 calories. It’s cornmeal, flour, sugar, milk, eggs, butter, salt, and baking powder. In our gas oven, it took 1 hour and 17 minutes to complete cooking at 350 degrees. He cooked his at 400 degrees for 45 minutes or so, which I will try next time.
The recipe calls for creating two bowls:
Dry Bowl: Whisk 2 cups cornmeal, 3 cups all-purpose flour, 4 teaspoons baking powder, and 1 teaspoon salt together, blending thoroughly
Wet Bowl: Beat 4 eggs together, add 1 cup of melted butter, 3 cups of milk, and 2 cups of sugar, blending throughly
Instructions: Slowly add 1 cup of the dry bowl contents to the wet bowl, whisking until completely mixed before adding another cup. Continue until all of the dry bowl is mixed in with the wet bowl.
Pour into a buttered 10″ to 12″ Dutch Oven and bake for 1 hour and 17 minutes at 350 degrees. You might have to adjust your baking time and temperature for your oven.
The verdict: It is delicious cornbread. It’s of the sweet variety, as you can tell by the inclusion of sugar, but it’s nice to have in the repertoire. I hope to find a few other versions and test them against it sometime this week, if I get an opportunity. I can’t wait to try some of his other recipe posts. It’s one of those old sites that reminds you of how the Internet looked in the 1990′s so it makes me nostalgic, too.
I kept it real by using an inexpensive cast iron Dutch Oven instead of one of the Le Creusets or Staubs. A boy has to know how to stay true to his roots. I’m going to grab a plate and go work my way through a pile of limited partnership offering documents to decide if I want to make an investment in an energy business. This is my idea of a good time. It doesn’t take much to make me happy …