You can’t hardly mess up cornbread.
If it’s a bit undercooked, you can grin and pour a little extra syrup over it. If it got left on the stove too long, just scrape off the bottom and enjoy from the middle up. Made from scratch is best. But there are mixes out there that are way better than “just tolerable.”
And when you think of the confusion, misgivings and unpredictable things “baking” in the world around us today, it’s a staple to hang on to!
I’ve eaten it in regular triangles, I’ve had it in squares, Mom had a cast iron skillet specifically molded to turn out six torpedo shaped pones, I’ve eaten it with a fork, I’ve picked it up with both hands and shoveled in mouthfuls, I’ve put my arms behind my back and leaned down and eaten it like a donkey, I’ve crumbled it up in a glass of milk and had it for dessert, I’ve eaten it with green eggs and ham, Sam I am.
It was a great conversation piece. Leon, me and David Mark had running arguments at meals over the best way to make hot water cornbread, whether hoe/cake was one word or two and if it actually contained real corn.
Cornbread was often an interactive meal. If Dad went to answer the phone and Mom turned to set something on the stove, I ducked a wadded-up handful Leon hurled toward my left temple.
Cornbread is one of the most versatile foods on the planet.
As a kid growing up in the greatest little village in West Tennessee, we only ate it at three meals each day. And I know for dead certain positive we were not alone.
If we were playing ball in that vacant lot beside Ricky Hale’s house and it got lunchtime, Miss Anita would call us in for a bowl of pinto beans and cornbread. If it was “kick the can” as dark was falling on Richard and Linda Gregg’s house, we’d go in and feast on cornbread and pinto beans… do you see a theme here? When we hauled hay for Mr. Dwayne Melton, he demanded we start at first light. He’d come out to the barn where we’d gathered up with a sack of cornbread “leftover” from breakfast.
Cornbread eats well with most everything from hard boiled eggs to a spinach casserole. It goes great with a sweet potato. It complements lima beans and black-eyed peas. It’s especially good with cabbage. And I don’t know have many mornings I ate it right by itself… and went out to face the day, happy, full and content.
But it was invented to eat with the aforementioned pinto beans and, of course, turnip greens.
A lot of folks back then apparently thought these three items constituted all seven food groups! I kid you not. We ate them so often we turned it into an art form. You could have a bowl of beans and the cornbread on the side. Or you could pile the beans on your plate and use the cornbread as a backstop.
My favorite way was to open a piping hot slice of cornbread and pour the beans on top, take a fork and mash it altogether so you created a whole new entity. We’d pour ketchup on top and eat it like it was steak.
Mom would put the turnip greens beside the cornbread one night and we’d eat it the “old fashion” way. The next night she would put the greens on top of the cornbread and you’d eat a “haystack.” The following night she’d slice the cornbread, pile in a heaping amount of greens and we’d have a “turnip green sandwich.”
Leon, being the oldest and smartest brother, after about three years commented, “You guys know, it’s still just cornbread and turnip greens no matter how she dresses it up!”
I think the high demand for cornbread might have correlated with the price. It was way cheaper than a loaf of Colonial, Sunbeam or Wonder Bread. We called that stuff “light bread.” You couldn’t mix it with pinto beans worth a darn. And a cooked-right pot of turnip greens would have melted the weak fiber.
We mostly used light bread to make those peanut butter and banana sandwiches we’d take to school. We’d have 20 minutes for lunch. I’d spend the first part of it trying to convince Suzie Cozart to trade me her cornbread and apple for my sandwich.
I was going to tell you about the camping trip accident where the fire under the cornbread erupted and set the woods ablaze. And you’ve got to hear about the fight that broke out at the American Legion Hall over the outcome of the cornbread baking contest….
But right now I’ve got a fresh batch coming out of the oven!
This article originally appeared on The Star: Hunker Down: Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and…