Some say that cornbread is the “cornerstone” of Southern United States cuisine. It is a popular item in soul food enjoyed by many people for its texture and scent. Cornbread can be baked, fried or, rarely steamed, often flavoured with chillies, cheese, onions and sweet corn kernels. Cornbread can also be baked into corn cakes. Cornmeal has been a staple of the Americas well before the European cultures discovered the New World. Native Americans such as the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Creek had learnt to extract and utilise ground corn (also known as maize) in their cooking processes and recipes. This ancient Native American technology has been named ‘nixtamalization’. New settlers often had to ’make do’ with local ingredients (corn meal) when traditional ingredients (ground wheat flour) were in short supply.
Cornbread was popular during the American Civil War because it was very cheap and could be made in many different forms—high-rising, fluffy loaves or simply fried (as unleavened pone, corn fritters, hoecakes, etc). These days, cornbread is usually an accompaniment consumed with a hearty bowl of chilli, gumbo or jambalaya. Cornbread crumbs are also used in some poultry stuffing’s; cornbread stuffing is particularly associated with Thanksgiving turkeys.
While I was working at a soul food restaurant, I came across corn bread on the menu. Even though it is usually served as a side to a robust stew/soup, it was decided by the powers that be, to be served as a self standing starter. Corn bread is an acquired taste; many a customer found that it was not moist enough, too crumbly, and very grainy.
There are many forms of cornbread, which mainly come under the yolk of sweet or savory. This is my interpretation of this soul food classic, based on a spoonbread recipe, which holds its moisture quite well, even after a couple of days in the fridge if kept in an air-tight container. It is a hint on the sweeter side than savory. Spoonbread is the richest, lightest, and most delicious of all corn meal breads, especially served warm with butter and chilli jam.
375g/13oz Plain flour
225g/8oz Cornmeal (Polenta)
1 Tsp salt
4 Tsp baking powder
2 Free-range eggs
110g Butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Grease 20cm/8in square baking tray with melted butter, and line with baking paper.
2. Combine dry ingredients in one bowl, wet ingredients in another. Combine the two and mix until just blended. If this mixture is over worked it will result in the corn bread tough and chewy.
3. Spill the batter like mix in the baking tray and ensure it is evenly distrusted. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove and cut into wedges, serve while still warm.