Which is the best cornbread, north or south?
Depends on whether you like your cornbread with sugar or without.
"If God had meant for cornbread to have sugar in it, he'd have called it cake." – Mark Twain
You would think that a discussion about cornbread would be a genteel, velvet-toned chat. But in my childhood, the subject was like a lit fuse on a keg of dynamite.
According to cookbook author Crescent Dragonwagon ("The Cornbread Gospels" — Workman, $14.95) cornbread has the ability to call forth joy and memory. She says that, in fact, is cornbread's mojo.
Well, my dad didn't know mojo from Jell-O, but he knew what he thought cornbread should be. And it was something very different from what my mother made. His disapproval was a recurring topic in his tableside tirades.
Dad said Mom's cornbread was cake, in a tone that made cake sound like rat poison. Mom said that Dad's cornbread was too hard and as tasteless as a doorstop.
It was an argument that spanned the length of their 60-year marriage.
Turns out that their unresolved disagreement was a North vs. South issue; my father's mother had mid-1800s roots in the South, my mother's ancestors lived in the North.
"Cornbread is loved everywhere, but in the south it's lingua franca," says Dragonwagon, a yarn-spinning cook and writer who has spent most of her adult life living in Arkansas, where for 18 years she ran a country inn and restaurant, Dairy Hollow House, with her late husband. She has served her cornbread to a president (Bill Clinton), a titled princess (Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia) and a world-renowned feminist (Betty Friedan).
"Your dad's cornbread sounds like Wenonah Fay's Mama's Plain Bread that is in the book," she says. "It's stripped down cornbread that was a constant for blacks during slavery times. It has grittiness, a coarse
quality that is earthy and unrefined, that is somehow primal."
Which style of cornbread is your favorite?
Or what kind of corn
or yellow ?
Or how it is cooked
Primal, indeed. I can still picture Dad's hands as he pushed and patted the simple mixture of cornmeal, water, salt and bacon drippings into a well-worn metal pie pan. Baked, it was brittle and so hard you could see the indentations made by his fingers. He served it hot, broken into higgledy-piggledy pieces and topped with butter.
Mom's cakey cornbread was sweetened with sugar. Dragonwagon says that using sugar is like going over to the dark side for many southerners. Of course there are exceptions.
"African-American Southern cornbreads are often quite sweet, and almost all Rhode Island jonnycakes are not sweetened …" she writes in her book.
But what about eggs and buttermilk? I frequently see those ingredients in southern cornbread recipes.
She says that southern cornbreads often incorporated those ingredients as economic times improved in the south after the Great Depression. She said that in better times, cornbread became a "chosen food, not just the only option."
"All the versions in the book are good, they are just different," she says. "But most people have an allegiance to the one they grew up with."
Guess that leaves me pretty much open. http://www.ocregister.com/articles/c...ar-dragonwagon