When my sweet mother married my father, following him north 600 miles for his career, everything familiar faded in the rearview mirror of their 1948 Ford sedan. Southern cooking, southern accents, and her large extended family were all left behind. Like most brides she tried to keep many of her mother’s recipes cooking in her kitchen as a way to stay connected to home and comfort.
Food is often the beginning point of building traditions in our families. Her mother always made a pot of homemade soup and cornbread for Christmas Eve and so my mother did the same, keeping that link to her faraway home alive for herself and for my brothers and me as we grew up Midwesterners without even a hint of a southern accent. Even today at 88 she makes the best cornbread on the planet!
A few weeks ago, unbeknownst to me, our FamilyLife Today engineer, Keith Lynch, called my mom to ask her to tell stories about me–what I was like as a kid and how we celebrated Christmas. He recorded that conversation and then cut and pasted portions into the broadcast airing today. I was both surprised and gifted by the stories he captured from her. I hope you and many others will listen and enjoy hearing the secrets she tells about me! It was great fun.
Knowing any mention of a great recipe will bring phone calls and emails I’ve written my mom’s recipe here, with a walk through on how to execute true southern cornbread. It isn’t complicated but it may not be successful on the first try. It took me longer than I expected to master the process. Ready?
The key to authentic southern corn bread is baking it in a cast iron skillet so that a crispy crust forms on the bottom. Without the iron skillet it just isn’t the same. A used iron skillet is best because it is probably “seasoned” from being oiled many times, creating a semi-non-stick surface. If you buy a new iron skillet (most local hardware stores sell them), simply wipe the entire inside generously with cooking oil and bake the skillet in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes before your first use. Remove the pan and wipe out any excess oil with a paper towel. Now that your skillet is ready, here’s what you’ll need:
- 1 cup milk
- 2 eggs
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 1 cup cornmeal, not self-rising
Preheat the oven to 400. Combine the dry ingredients in one bowl and the liquids in another. Put the skillet on the stove top with 1 tablespoon of oil in the bottom, swirl it around to cover the surface, and heat the pan until hot. While it is heating (watch it if you have a gas stove top or it can burn) mix up your corn bread batter. Pour the liquids into the dry ingredients and then whisk all ingredients together. The batter may be slightly lumpy or might not seem thick enough. Not to worry.
Check your skillet to see if it’s hot enough. It’s ready when a drop of water sizzles on the surface! Turn off the burner, pour the batter into the hot skillet, and then transfer the pan to the oven.
Bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Test if it’s done by lightly touching the top center of the bread with a hot pad. If it feels firm, you’re ready to flip the circle of bread in the pan and let the top side brown a bit while you finish other dinner prep, but not longer than another 5 minutes.
Serve on a plate cut into wedges. This recipe is enough for one 11- to 12-inch iron skillet. Half the ingredients for an 8-inch skillet.
Soup and hot cornbread, with real butter I might add, is a perfect meal for any winter night in December. I kept the cornbread recipe alive with my family but not as our Christmas Eve tradition. The thread of traditions often twists and turns through the weaving of generations but the connection remains.
Enjoy and may you worship the King of Kings who came to us on the darkest of days to bring us the Light of Life.