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Cornbread, Want it Plain or Gussied-up?

Cornbread is more than the finishing touch to a meat and three meal and more than the main ingredient for holiday dressing. Bite into a piece of piping hot buttered cornbread and you are experiencing a culture. There’s nothing more Southern. Want to know about a people, eat their bread!

History of Cornbread

Native Americans were growing and grinding maize (corn) long before explorers began staking claims in North America. The Europeans devised recipes that they believed to be more pleasing in appearance and to the palate. But as in so many recipes, it was the Southerners who took this good thing to greatness. If you own more than one cast iron cornbread skillet, corn stick pan, or corn muffin pan, black from years of use, you have an intimate understanding of this concept.

“Oh, how I wish.....”

Some food critics would say that cornbread has no place in the list of celebrated breads. Historians might tell us that cornbread was eaten by poorer families while rich folk were passing plates of fluffy biscuits. Maybe cornbread is a product of making something delicious from humble ingredients but the mere mention of cornbread creates spontaneous exclamations and stories involving family members preparing delicious corn pone, hoe cakes, or cornbread. This conversation usually ends with, “Oh how I wish I could make cornbread like my …...”

The fact that cornbread is a staple on today’s Southern tables is testament to its place of honor in our culinary history. Hey “folks” keep your caviar, I’ll take a piece of that buttered cornbread.

Sweet Memories not Sweet Cornbread

My friend, Ogeal Halfacre Webster shares her memories of cornbread in Granville in the 1930’s and 40’s.

“Corn, raised on our farm was used to feed the chickens and hogs. Some of it was sold and a large portion of it was ground into corn meal. We ate cornbread twice a day every day. We had biscuits at breakfast, but for dinner (noon) and supper, it was cornbread.

Turn of Corn to the Gristmill

Cornmeal was plentiful and cheap. Papa took a “turn” of corn to Mr. Eller’s gristmill located in Granville. Mr. Eller kept a toll from each turn of corn ground. That was his profit; he sold the corn or meal.

We had a meal and flour chest in our kitchen. It had a partition down the middle so one side held flour and the other meal. It had a board that slid from one side of the chest to the other. This was used to roll out biscuits or for holding the container for mixing dough.

Making Corn Pone

Mama had a round sifter she used to sift out the larger bits of corn so her meal would have the same texture throughout. She added baking soda, buttermilk and an egg to the meal and stirred it to the consistency she wanted. A hot iron skillet with bacon grease or lard was waiting at the wood burning stove. The hot fat would sizzle up the side of the pan forming a crunchy brown edge. It was baked in the oven until golden brown. When she took it out of the oven, she turned it out onto a plate and cut it into pie shaped pieces. Sometimes she called this a “pone” of bread.

Mama had a black scalloped iron muffin pan and sometimes for special occasions, she baked the bread into muffins. If time was short, she made hoecakes by making the batter a little thinner. She spooned the batter with a spoon into individual portions on to a greased black iron baker. She browned them on one side, turned once to brown on the other. These were especially good with a pot of soup or with some butter, molasses or honey. At times, she made hot water hoecakes. For these she poured meal into hot boiling water and stirred to a mush. She dipped it out by spoonfuls and fried it.

Cornbread Crumbled in Milk

Since we had our main meal at noon, a good supper was often left-over cornbread crumbled in a glass of milk. Some people also liked it in buttermilk. I remember sometimes in winter, mama scalded milk and crumbled cornbread in it and served it to us in soup bowls.

Crackling bread was a treat at hog killing time. Pieces of skin from the hogs were cut into small pieces and fried until crispy. A cup of cracklings added to cornmeal batter yielded a nice variation for cornbread in the winter months.

Cornbread along with pinto beans, vegetables from the garden and meat from the smoke house satisfied our appetites. The cornbread satisfied our souls.”

Calling All Cooks

Great cooks from across middle Tennessee will gather in Granville on May 7 to enter the Cornbread Contest. There is a category for traditional cornbread. That’s what I grew up eating, just plain cornbread. The non-traditional category has special touches added to the cornmeal dish. Sometime I make a Mexican cornbread, or add bacon and sun-dried tomatoes, or broccoli and cheese to that precious cornmeal mixture; this is considered non-traditional. There is also a hoe cake category. I make a great pancake style hoe cake on a hot greased griddle but don’t worry, I won’t be entering. Get your creative culinary skills going and enter the moonshine and cornmeal category. Yes, that’s correct, the recipe must include cornmeal and TN spirits. This usually ends up being a dessert type dish.

Don’t forget the main ingredient, it must be prepared in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet sprinkled with love. Cook in cast iron and bring on a disposable dish. Entries are taken 8:30-9:30 AM. To see a complete listing of rules, go to

8:30 AM-9:30 AM- Cornbread entries taken in Pioneer Village

10:45- Winners announced from the gazebo

11AM-2PM A sampling of all the cornbread entries is available with the purchase of a lunch ticket to Cornbread Lane. Lunch line opens at 11AM in Pioneer Village.

9AM- Historic sites open for the day

10AM- Storytelling Cabin Porch "One Circle- Several Stories"

11AM- Storytelling Car Museum Porch- The NASCAR and Moonshine Runner Runners

and The Luke Denny Story.

12 - 4 PM- Sampling of Tennessee Spirits by Tennessee Whiskey Trail Guild. Admission to tasting area $5.00. You must be 21 years of age to enter.

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