At the heart of it all, we are but two Midwesterners who grew up driving by cornfields and eating cornbread made up from a box. Cornbread just may be the dish that most embodies the sprit of Americana. It is comfort food, not particularly good for you, but good for the soul. It is the kind of food that has its place at any old backyard barbecue and at Thanksgiving dinner, too. Both of us have memories of battling siblings for the last piece of sweet, sweet Jiffy cornbread. We won some; we lost some. Being that we are all grown up now, it goes without saying that we are still not above battling for the last piece. Cornbread continues to hold a place in our hearts and bellies because it reminds us of home. Comfort food has earned its name for a reason, and we are no strangers to the special power it holds as we lead our lives in a tiny camper many hundreds of miles from home. In the face of homesickness: we bake and we eat.
Last week, we wrote about how our forest shower is at the center of our camper life. What we did not say, which rings as true as ever before, is that the kitchen is at the center of our life anywhere. We have noticed a strong correlation over the years between our spiritual wellbeing and the amount of time we are spending in the kitchen cooking together, working with our hands together, and eating together. We have heard the same from several people that we admire and love. The wellness that we derive from being in the kitchen has its roots not only in the fruits of our labor, but also in the labor itself and the wares so lovingly used time and time again.
In consideration of a homesick heart, a fail-proof recipe is the best sort. Having been guilty of crying over spilled milk in the past, we knew that our day off needed to start with a well-worn recipe reminiscent of home. The sort you slice with a pocketknife and don’t bother to get your fancy dishes out for serving. We needed a recipe that, at best, can be eaten on its own en masse, and at worst can be wholly redeemed by dunking it in soup. Cornbread. We may have grown up loyal devotees to Jiffy, but these days we come back time and time again to Karen Mordechai’s cornbread recipe in Sunday Suppers: Recipes and Gatherings. She calls for high-quality cornmeal, and we call for cooking it in cast iron.
A love for cast iron is something of a learned trait, isn’t it? Your grandma used the same skillet every day for half a century, and she probably did not worry about every drop of condensation that touched it. Her skillet was an extension of her arm; an extension of her maternal nature. Best of all, the skillet probably was not Lodge or Griswold; it was just old. (The other day, we scored a 9-inch cast iron skillet for five bucks at a garage sale, or “tag sale” as they call ‘em in the Northeast. We can’t find a brand anywhere on it, but it works significantly better than the Lodge we’ve been seasoning for years. Go figure.) We inherited the love of cast iron from our mothers, who learned it from theirs. In earnest we will spend our marriage seasoning our cast iron pans not with store-bought treatments, but with olive oil and butter and no-fail cornbread.
CAST IRON BUTTERMILK CORNBREAD WITH HONEY BUTTER
from Karen Mordecai's cookbook Sunday Suppers: Recipes and Gatherings
A note on baking: We did not have light brown sugar, and instead used 1/8 cup white sugar and 1/2 tablespoon molasses. Use less honey if you want it slightly less sweet and a little more savory, as we did.
We halved the recipe to fit our 9-inch skillet.
2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 c. light brown sugar
1/4 c. good honey
4 large eggs, at room temp
2 c. buttermilk
1 tsp. baking soda
2 c. yellow cornmeal
2 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 sticks unsalted butter
1/4 c. honey
— preheat oven to 375 F. Grease a 9-inch cast iron skillet with butter.
— melt butter in a separate skillet over medium heat. stir in brown sugar and honey + remove from heat. quickly add eggs and beat until combined.
— in a cup or small bowl, combine buttermilk with baking soda. add that to the egg mixture. in a larger bowl, stir together cornmeal, flour, and salt until well blended and few lumps remain. add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.
— pour the batter into the greased cast iron skillet and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
or honey butter
— mix butter and honey in a small bowl until well blended. add herbs if you'd like, or leave it as is. spread it on the warm cornbread and enjoy.