ALVIN’S “FAMOUS” TEXAS-STYLE CORNBREAD
The recipe comes from my mother, Lillie Wilson, who made cornbread nearly every day for my dad as long as he lived. He was a brusque, old-time Texan who loved sitting down in the evening with a fresh pan of cornbread and a heap of black-eyed peas. A big green onion on the side made the meal even better.
The recipe is only famous because my daughter Emily says it is, I guess.
SKILLET: Before you start making cornbread, get yourself a big old cast iron skillet, the kind that probably makes you wonder, “What would I ever cook in this huge, heavy thing?”. A 10″ skillet is best for this recipe, though a 12″ would work if you increase the proportions a little bit. Otherwise, with a 12″ skillet and these proportions, the bread tends to come out a little thin, and harder. Season the skillet properly, so it’s all black inside, and the cornbread should pop out without effort. If you use an aluminum pan or glass baking dish, the cornbread will probably not form it’s crispy bottom crust, and will likely stick, detracting from your cornbread experience.
Place the seasoned skillet (see manufacturers instructions for proper seasoning) on top of the stove and put a medium flame under it. Pour in a tablespoon or two of oil (vegetable oil, corn oil, shortening, or lard as you see fit) and leave it to heat up. At the same time, turn on your oven to 450-degrees.
Get a big mixing bowl and put in the following ingredients (all measurements are “more or less”):
- 1 cup of flour
- 1 cup of corn meal (white or yellow)
- 2 teaspoons of baking POWDER
- 1 teaspoon of baking SODA
- 1 teaspoon of salt
Mix the dry ingredients together really well. If you mix up the amounts of baking soda and baking powder, the bread will be unpalatable, so be careful!
Next, add the following ingredients:
- 2 cups of buttermilk
- 2 eggs
EGGS: Now, I claim to be a “cornbread purist”, as some of you know, not bowing to pressure to add such things as corn (“If me and the boys wanted corn, we’d-a-ordered chowder” and, “This is a recipe for TEXAS-style cornbread, not New England-style”.) My dad was a purist though, in that he refused to eat cornbread if it was made with (a.) yellow cornmeal; or (b.) eggs. The cornmeal color is strictly an aesthetic argument. White and yellow cornmeal taste exactly the same (sorry, Dad!). The eggs, however are a matter of taste. If you don’t like eggs, or are allergic to them, or you just don’t have any eggs, then by all means don’t use eggs. If you’re concerned about cholesterol, use only one egg (though if you’re concerned about cholesterol, why are you making cornbread?). I use eggs for their chemistry; they make the batter hold itself together after it rises. Non-egg cornbread tastes as good, but it will probably be flat and hard. Experiment and decide for yourself.
After you get your wet and dry ingredients all beaten together into a smooth paste (somewhat thicker than pancake batter, and grainier), check your oiled skillet. It should be HOT before you pour in the batter. I personally like to see a little smoke wafting out of the skillet so I know it’s HOT. But don’t burn the oil or it will impart it’s own flavor to the cornbread. Again, experiment.
Pour the batter into the hot oil, experiencing the sizzle as the bottom crust forms, sealing a thin layer of oil between the hot iron skillet and the batter. This will be essential later, when you try to get the cornbread out of the hot skillet. Scrape the bowl clean so you get every last morsel into the skillet, and place the pan gently into the blazing-hot, 450-degree oven for 18 to 20 minutes. Remember that oven temps vary, so after about fifteen minutes take a peek and see if the bread is turning golden brown on top (I believe the egg helps this process, as well).
When the bread is finished cooking, grab two or three potholders and wrap them around the blistering-hot cast iron handle of that giant, heavy monstrosity of a skillet, and deftly flip the cornbread upside-down onto a plate. If you leave it in the skillet, the cornbread will steam up on the bottom and become soggy and inedible. Again, personal preference dictates that I turn the bread back over, top-up, before I cut into it. You decide.
Slice out a pie-shaped wedge of the bread, slice it down the middle like a bagel (like every bagel in the world wished it could taste this good!) and smother it with butter (or margarine). You might want to warn your taste buds that they are about to experience a taste of heaven.
Leftover (yeah, right) cornbread keeps well for two or three days if wrapped tightly in foil or plastic and left on the counter or in a breadbox. I don’t recommend refrigerating it because it becomes soggy. Heat it (wrapped) in the microwave for thirty seconds or so, or eat it at room temperature.
One of my favorite ways to eat it after it cools, is to break it up into bite-size bits in a cup or glass, pour milk over it and eat it with a spoon. My dad (the Cornbread Purist) ate it this way with BUTTERMILK! But you have to like the flavor of buttermilk.
Incidentally, if you find yourself in the midst of a “cornbread crisis” (i.e., you have fifty last-minute dinner guests on the way and you have no buttermilk), use the following cheat: pour two cups of whole milk into a bowl; add two tablespoons of white (clear) vinegar and mix well, leaving the mix at room-temperature for ten or fifteen minutes. The vinegar acts as the acid which reacts with the baking soda and baking powder to make the cornbread rise. The vinegar will cook out, not adding it’s own taste to the mix. Likewise, the buttermilk will not leave its distinctive taste behind, any more than it does in buttermilk pancakes or buttermilk biscuits.