This week would have been my mother’s 93rd birthday. She was a county cook. A few written recipes, nothing too fancy. She just went to the kitchen and came up with plain good food. One item that we had at least once a week with dinner was cornbread. This cornbread was thin and crumbly and not sweet. We ate it warm from the oven with butter, or crumbled it into soup or chili instead of crackers and of course with pinto beans.
I am not certain just how it happened, but like many of my mother’s recipes, I neglected to learn or write down just how it was made. I have visited many home-style diners and cafes that are reported to have “the best” old-fashioned cornbread. Invariably I am disappointed to receive a square of tall, fluffy, sweet cornbread. When eating out, my mother would refer to this sweetened version, with in her opinion too much wheat flour, as cake and she would eat it at the end of her meal. Now this is not to say that when split open and served with honey butter this style of cornbread is not delicious in itself and my family (being northerners and all) are not huge cornbread fans but tolerate the modern version just fine thank you. It’s just not what I would call the honest cornbread of my youth. For years I have been on the look out for a version of what I call Mom’s Honest Cornbread. I have asked older family members (alas the really old ones who would know are no longer with us). I have scoured old cookbooks and the internet for years. I have asked various family members, always hopeful for that taste of the past.
I recently found what I think is a close match to Mom’s Honest Cornbread in an online vintage cookbook that was published by Culinary Arts Press in 1935. This cornbread is perfect as a side with a dinner of baked ham and green beans or crumbled into a bowl of chili or bean soup. Below is my rendition of the “Southern Cookbook of Fine Old Recipes” cornbread which they call simply Miss Lee’s Southern Cornbread.
Miss Lee’s Southern Cornbread
- 1 cup cornmeal (the recipe calls for white but I use yellow)
- 1/4 cup wheat flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 beaten egg
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 Tb melted butter
Sift together the dry ingredients. Add the beaten egg and milk and stir just until combined. Lastly, add the melted butter, stir and pour into a well-greased pan (I used 8×8 inch but Mom used a cast iron skillet). Bake in a preheated oven @ 425 degrees for 25 minutes (I think that it probably could have come out a little sooner).
Happy Birthday Mom – It’s not cake!