Kids can be picky eaters. My youngest, she’ll eat anything. That can be a problem at times. My oldest, though, doesn’t like much of anything. You know what she does like, though? My Southern Corn Bread.
I’ve been working on this recipe for the past 10 years. I figured I’d need to know how to cook a couple things once I left home. This isn’t all I learned to cook, but it was the first actual recipe…Simple Southern Corn Bread.
Okay, it was a stretch when I called my snow cream recipe southern. This time, though, I’ve got a little history on my side. Before I tell you how to make Southern Corn Bread, what separates it from the Yankee variety?
Clarification for our international readers: not all Americans are Yanks. Some in the Old South don’t care about this, some do. The worst place to learn this is a bar in the backwoods over a jar of white lightning.
Maybe you don’t care about the history and just want the recipe. If that’s you, skip down to the “What You’ll Need” section.
Southern Corn Bread v. Northern Corn Bread
One difference is the color. Yankee corn bread is 100% yellow. Southern Corn Bread can be either yellow or white.
I’ve heard that, historically, this was due to the places that supplied the corn back in the American Civil War. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know. I do know that both white and yellow corn meal are in ready supply in my beloved south.
Another difference is the consistency. Yankee corn bread is crumbly and wasteful, where proper Southern Corn bread is more cake like. It doesn’t crumble to pieces when you cut into it.
Some folks seem to think the difference is actually sweetened v. unsweetened corn bread, but that’s not quite right.
Southern Corn Bread – Sweet or Not?
In modern times, you can get sweet southern corn bread. Many assume this is the norm, and even historically accurate.
Pardon my French, but that’s a bunch of horse shit.
Originally, flour and sugar weren’t ever added to corn bread. A change in the production of corn meal changed the corn bread you got from the old recipes. To make the same corn bread with the new corn meal, you had to add to it.
Since folks were already adding sugar to change the consistency to the corn bread they grew up eating, they went whole hog and made it sweet. When the next generation grew up eating sweetened corn bread, it became normal.
Some folks like theirs sweet and some folks don’t. I’m firmly in the don’t camp. Ultimately, people like whatever their dear old Granny made them as a kid.
You could sweeten my recipe, but I wouldn’t. Flour and sugar have no place in Southern Corn Bread.
What You’ll Need to Make Southern Corn Bread
As far as heating elements go, you can use just about anything. I’ve used fire, a charcoal grill, an oven, and a convection oven. Today’s Southern Corn Bread was made in a convection oven, so that’s the directions you get.
One thing that you will need that is non-negotiable is a cast iron skillet.
You can’t make Southern Corn Bread in anything else. Not up for debate. Sorry, not sorry.
What, you want to use a bread pan? A muffin tin? Don’t even joke like that. It just ain’t right. Why, you ask?
Some of the benefits of using cast iron are even heating. The entire skillet will get hot, not just the part close to the heating element. This makes the difference between a convection oven and a standard oven unnoticeable.
Another benefit is that the entire skillet is metal. You can put the whole thing in the oven. You can, and you will.
The reason to do this is the non-stick nature of cast iron skillets. As your oven is pre-heating, your skillet will be spending the entire time heating up. When your Southern Corn Bread is done, it drops right out.
Just make double sure to use oven mitts and pot holders, because the handle will be hotter than hell.
If you don’t own any cast iron, I forgive you and I’ve got you covered. Here’s the exact one I’ve been using for years.
I’ll talk about the wonders of cast iron cookware some other time. Suffice to say that my children’s children will be able to cook with the same skillet their parents were fed from today. Can’t say that for most any other cookware.
Start Your Heating
If you’re using an oven, set it to pre-heat to 425 degrees. With a fire, you’ll need a grate to put your skillet on and a chain and tripod to attach the grate to. Raise the grate if your skillet gets too hot and you’re back in business.
Either way, you’re going to put your empty cast iron skillet in the heat right from the get-go. You want your skillet to be hot, and you don’t want it to go from room temperature to hot. Cast iron takes time to get evenly heated but the time is well worth it.
It’s trickier when using a fire, but with an oven you don’t need to give your skillet any additional prep. Just stick it into the cold oven and start the pre-heat. By the time your oven reaches 425, your skillet will be just right.
While Your Skillet Warms, Prepare Your Wet Mix
Get together the following:
- 2 Eggs
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 3/4 cup milk
That’s half the mix. The next part is very important, about as important as using cast iron.
- 2 tablespoons Duke’s Mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons Lard
You could use a lesser mayonnaise, sure. You’ll get a lesser corn bread, and it won’t be Southern. You could use oil or butter instead of lard, but I sure wouldn’t.
Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl. Don’t beat them yet. Pour in your milk and cream, then spoon your Duke’s into the bowl. NOW beat the eggs.
Beating the eggs after adding the cream, milk, and mayo allows the Duke’s to break up evenly. Adding the milk and cream before the Duke’s gives it room to spread. It’s no different than spitting on your whetstone before you sharpen with it.
DO NOT Put the Lard Into the Wet Mix Yet!
Truthfully, I don’t spoon my lard. I cut it out of the tub with my trusty knife, eyeballing the correct amount from years of experience. You might have to use a measuring spoon and a butter knife for the next part if you’re a new cook.
However you do it, measure out your lard. Open the oven and carefully drop your lard into your cast iron skillet. The skillet will melt it evenly and completely while you beat the rest of the wet mix.
After your lard melts, use oven mitts and pot holders to pour your melted lard into the mixing bowl. It’ll sizzle a little, but don’t pay it any mind. Mix your lard thoroughly into the wet mix.
The Dry “Mix”
Here’s what you’ll need for the dry mix.
- 1 Cup Corn Meal
That’s it. No flour. No sugar. You could use them, but it wouldn’t be Southern Corn Bread.
You could also add crisp bacon and diced jalapenos. That’s an addition I can get behind 100%! For this recipe, though, I kept it simple. Just the corn meal.
Start adding your corn meal into your wet mix. You might need a little more or a little less to get the right consistency. Then again, maybe you don’t know what that is.
The consistency you’re looking for is more like pancake batter than biscuit or bread dough. You’re looking for a fluid batter that stirs well with a fork, not one that folds.
The Actual Cooking
Take your cast iron skillet out of the oven and place it on a pot holder on your counter. Use oven mitts and don’t set it on your bare counter – that skillet is going to be very hot.
Pour your Southern Corn Bread Batter right into the hot skillet. Set it back into the oven without sloshing it or spilling it. Leave the pot holder there on the counter for now.
I don’t go by cook time, I go by look and fork.
My convection oven has a light in it that keeps me from having to open it to check it. If yours doesn’t, you’ll have to do it the old fashioned way of opening it and looking. You’re looking for a golden brown color like the picture below.
One it reaches this color, stick a fork in the center. If the fork comes back out dry, she’s done. If you get batter, it needs more cooking. That’s why there’s an indentation in the center of the corn bread above.
If it’s done, pull the skillet out of the oven and turn it over onto your pot holder on the counter. It’ll all pop right out in one piece. Flip it over and you’ll have a view just like the one above.
Let the corn bread set for ten minutes before you go cutting into it. Since this is Southern Corn Bread, when you go to cut it open it won’t crumble at all. It’ll look like the picture below.
What Makes It Southern?
Aside from the consistency, there’s the cook. For most of the history of the South, corn bread was the primary bread eaten. I’m a southerner, and not all of us are ashamed of our heritage.
When asked if I’m ashamed of my ancestors actions, I have to laugh. My ancestors were dirt poor and couldn’t afford slaves, just like most folks in the south. What’s more, my kin became sharecroppers after the war and worked right alongside former slaves.
Ain’t no shame in my game.
My ancestors were forced off their land by rich people from the north after the American Civil War. Then they were given the option to work their old land for someone else’s profit. The choice was between homelessness and sharecropping.
They carved out a living and after a few generations some of them were able to afford land again. I respect the hell out of them for that.
That’s not just Southern, that’s downright American.