Meemaw’s Skillet Buttermilk Cornbread

My maternal grandmother Meemaw and her mother, Granny Proctor, and her mother, Granny Williams, all used cast-iron skillets to cook the majority of their meals, and they did it right on the top of a wood-fired cast-iron stove.  Mom still makes cornbread in the cast-iron skillets she inherited from Meemaw, who got them from Granny Proctor.  One day, I will inherit them, as well.  (Though there may be some sibling rivalry!)

Granny and Grandpaw Proctor in 1938...Meemaw and Peepaw in 1954.

There’s something wrong with cornbread that’s not baked in a cast-iron skillet.  But you don’t have one, you say?  *sigh*

Lucky for you, you can usually pick up a beautifully-seasoned cast-iron skillet at a thrift store like Salvation Army for a few bucks.  Look for one that’s nice and black, smooth on the cooking surface of the pan, but kinda globby/crusty on the sides and handle.  This indicates a cast-iron skillet that has been used well for many years, and these things are worth their weight in gold, despite the nominal price you’ll pay. If you see a rusty skillet at a second-hand store, you can get it anyway and renovate it using the self-cleaning cycle on your oven.  Search the net for instructions.  Don’t wanna bother looking?  The Lodge brand of cast iron skillets is available pre-seasoned from places like WalMart and Academy for around $20 per piece.

Cast iron needs a little care after each use, but you’ll quickly fall in love with it.  There’s no better way to cook food.

Okay, okay…you can make cornbread in glass or metal pan, 8” or 9” square for this recipe.  It just won’t taste the same.

Speaking of tasting the same, I learned while cooking on the Rachael Ray Show in New York in 2007 that you people up in the northeast like to eat your cornbread sweet like a cake.  That’s just plain wrong.  But I’ve included some concessions for you in this recipe so you can have it sweet if you just can’t bear to eat it the right way.

Cornbread is really cheap to make…less than 50 cents to make a whole pan that will serve up to 8.  Best of all, you can pair cornbread with cooked beans or lentils and you’ve got a complete protein, just like you get from meat.  So if you’re pinching pennies, beans and cornbread make a fantastic standby.

Start by slowly warming your cast iron skillet on the stovetop over medium-low heat.  (Don’t heat cast iron too fast or it might crack!)  This recipe is just perfect for a 10” skillet.  It will make thick cornbread in an 8” skillet, but it’s too much for a 6” skillet.

Preheat oven to 400F.

If you’re using a glass or metal pan, spray it with canola oil and dust it lightly with cornmeal.

2 cups cornmeal (Do whatever you can to find course stone-ground cornmeal, but regular will do in a pinch.)

¾ cup flour

2 teaspoons kosher salt (or 1 tsp table salt)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

You can add 2-4 Tablespoons of sugar to the batter if you absolutely must have sweet cornbread, just don’t tell me you’re doing it.  *cough*

In a large bowl, stir these ingredients around with your fingers.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add:

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup buttermilk (Don’t have buttermilk?  You can substitute 1 cup milk with 2 Tablespoons vinegar whisked in, or better yet, 1/2 cup of sour cream or yogurt plus 1/2 cup milk)

½ cup milk

2 Tablespoons melted butter, bacon grease, or olive oil

Stir everything around just until all the dry ingredients are wet.

Into your hot cast iron skillet, add a Tablespoon or two of oil, butter, or bacon grease and, using a hot pad, carefully swirl the fat around the bottom and sides of the skillet.

Add some sprinkles of cornmeal to the bottom of the pan and let them sizzle for a few seconds before pouring the batter into the pan.  Then put the batter-filled skillet into a 400F oven, and bake for 5 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350F and bake for another 25-35 minutes until cornbread is golden on top and has pulled away from the sides of the skillet.

Test by sticking a knife into the center of the cornbread.  If it comes out streaky with batter, the cornbread needs another 5-10 minutes.

If you’re making this cornbread in a glass or metal pan, simply bake the cornbread at 400F for 25-30 minutes.

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