At long last, we are making the Appalachian staple: cornbread. This recipe is just one of many from The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery. Every cook had their own way of making cornbread, often passed to them from their mothers and grandmothers. Until the early 20th century, most families did not eat bread as we know it today–yeasted white wheat bread. Instead, bread was formed three times a day from stone-ground, heirloom cornmeal and baked in a cast iron skillet. While we don’t have stone-ground cornmeal right now (our local mills are closed), we try to get back to our roots with this delicious cast iron-baked recipe. We always say, there’s nothing like hot cornbread baked in a wood stove!
It Still Lives, the Foxfire podcast: Season 1, Episode 4
2 cups cornmeal (white, yellow, or mix)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour, optional (*if not using flour, add an extra 1/2 c cornmeal)
1 tsp baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
2 cups soured milk (see note)
3-4 tablespoons solid bacon fat, lard, or coconut oil
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Spoon bacon fat into cast iron skillet and place in oven while it preheats. Sift cornmeal(s) and flour, if using, together with other dry ingredients. Mix in the beaten egg and milk. Once oven is heated, carefully remove skillet and pour in batter, mixing slightly. Bake 20-25 minutes, until top is golden brown and edges of cornbread pull away from sides of pan.
*Note: if you don’t have buttermilk, you can use an equal amount of acidic whey reserved from cheesemaking (as shown in video) or you can make a quick substitute with any type of milk (including almond milk) by measuring 1 tablespoon of vinegar and lemon juice, then adding enough milk to reach one cup. Let stand 5-10 minutes before using.
Corn bread has a tendency to get dry quickly, so if you don’t eat it within a day or two, try out one of these ideas for upcycling the leftovers:
- Make cornbread dressing or strata
- Roughly chop and toast in over with seasoning to use as croutons
- Crumble up and swirl in vanilla ice cream with a drizzle of honey (seriously)
- In the mountains, people used to crumble up their day-old cornbread into a glass of milk or buttermilk and eat it like cereal
- Use cornbread instead of tortillas or bread in a batch of chicken tortilla soup or Italian ribollita
~Kami Ahrens, Assistant Curator