Monday, August 25, 2008

It's cornbread, not cake!

Ron and Joan try. They really do.
But some things are just not easy for them, mainly because of their disadvantaged upbringing.
By “disadvantaged upbringing,’’ I mean they are - and there is just not delicate way to put it - Yankees.
They just don’t know no better, as the saying goes back home.
I should point out here that Ron and Joan have done well for themselves despite this obstacle. They are eager to try new things and more or less open to a more enlightened view.
Take the issue of cornbread, for example.
Saturday afternoon, this important topic came up and we all decided that it would be great to have cornbread to go with the tortilla soup that a friend was bringing over for dinner the next day.
Those familiar with this blog know that I have been helping Ron and Joan out for the past few weeks while they recover from a bad car accident.
Well, I made the innocent inquiry of whether we had all the necessary ingredients for cornbread. It was with great pleasure that I learned that Ron and Joan had a big cast-iron skillet. It was really more than I could have expected, to be honest. We started clicking off the necessary ingredients: corn meal, flour, baking powder, salt, eggs, cooking oil.
Then one of them - I think it was Joanie - said something that I found very disturbing: “Don’t forget the sugar,’’ she said.
Sugar? It was a jolt, to be honest.
And then I remembered: Yankees use sugar in their cornbread. And that ain’t all, either.
So I pressed them on their definition of cornbread.
Now, I don’t want to put words in their mouths, but their idea of cornbread was a creating that was yellow, fluffy and sweet.
“What you are describing ain’t cornbread,’’ I said in a calm, restrained voice. “Yellow? Fluffy? Sweet? You are describing cake!’’
Patiently, simply I tried to explain it to them.
“Well, I guess it is possible that cornbread can be made two ways,’’ I said. “You can make fluffy, sweet, yellow cornbread. That’s one way.
“And then there is the way God intended.’’
Now, this comes as no surprise to any genteel southerner, of course. We have known since our earliest days that cornbread is made with white cornmeal and no sugar.
But there have been dark forces at work over the decade, truncating the time-honored cornbread tradition. In fact, even the corn meal manufacturers - people who have been given a sacred trust to uphold all that is good and decent about cornbread - have proven to be a part of the conspiracy.
Don’t believe me: Check out the cornbread ratio on the box. It calls for roughly twice as much flour as corn meal, which is almost exactly the proper ratio inverted. They also call for as much as four teaspoons of baking powder, which - if followed - would produce that obscenely fluffy texture that is contrary to the very nature of cornbread and a violation of a major tenet in the art - that cornbread should be flat and course. And, of course, the box also calls for sugar, which is simply an abomination.
Now, Sunday evening I made cornbread. Sadly, the corn meal was yellow, so I had to carry on as best I could.
The end result wasn’t half bad, though.
And then Ron did something that I could not have anticipated: He poured honey over the cornbread, even as I was slathering the butter on my chunk of corn bread.
Of course, I was too polite to make a scene, but it did remind me of a passage in Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird.’’ In that seen one of the Ewell children had been invited to eat lunch with Jem and Scout. The visitor, being of a disadvantaged background and horrible manners, asked the maid for some molasses and drenched everything on his plate - meat, vegetables, bread - with molasses.
When Scout protested, the maid sternly told her to be quiet.
As I watched Ron drizzle honey over perfectly good cornbread, I suppressed my impulse to speak out.
Now, Ron is a fine, intelligent man.
But there are some gaps in his education.
Put honey on your cornbread?
Southern mamas would be aghast.
But I cut Ron and Joanie some slack.
They grew up Yankee. They just don’t know no better.


Matthew Self said...

You put putter on your cornbread? In my neck of the woods (Kimberly, Ala.) we crumble that stuff up into a glass and pour buttermilk over it.

marghowell said...

Made cornbread tonight, of course with white meal and absolutely no sugar! had it with some black eyed peas and cabbage, wish you were here for some!and I so remember Scout wanting to correct her guest...Margaret

CJinPhoenix said...

You are in the Southwest now, Slim. Corn ain't for bread, with or without sugar. You need a recipe for tortillas.

whitehawk said...

So what's your recipe? I don't like the fluffy yellow "cake" stuff either.

Andrea G. said...

My Parents grew up in Oklahoma and they didn't use sugar in their cornbread. If there was leftover cornbread we made cornbread stuffing or dressing. Yum!

WildMan said...

Hi Slim,

Been reading your blog, I have an uncle ( he married my mothers sister ) from Wisconison, yea we have yankee blood in our family tree. My father introduced him to cornbread in 1956 in Gatlingburg, TN. He spit it out and said "I like sugar in my cake." This has been a big joke in our family since.

Old Friend,