Learning to love cornbread…

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As most of you readers are well, my ethnic background is South Korean, and I’ve spent most of my life growing up here in Australia. What that means is that my cooking and eating habits are a strange mish-mash of cultures – for example, I eat kimchi with almost anything, and I find it difficult to eat rich foods without its clean, sharp, spicy acidity to cut through the richness. While I love a good barbeque, alongside the sausages, lamb chops and coleslaw are galbi (sweet soy marinated short ribs), bulgogi and a variety of Korean sides and sauces. However, despite being open to trying new foods and cuisines, one thing that I’m very unfamiliar with is the American palate, particularly the Southern and Tex-Mex stuff which I’ve had absolutely no exposure to.

Nachos, fajitas, burritos, tacos, chili, refried beans, biscuits and gravy, the list of things that are new or unknown to me could go on for quite awhile. Accepted, this stuff is not for everyday eating as much of it counts as hearty but hardly healthy fare, but it’s still stuff that I’m eager to find out about, along with other cuisines that I don’t know very well. So, when I was approached with an offer to have a cornbread cookbook ‘The Cornbread Gospels‘ sent out to me to review, I was both confused and pleased. Confused, because as a Korean-Australian lass, I knew pretty much nothing about cornbread as it was, but pleased because I thought this would be a good opportunity to learn about a foodstuff that seems to be very much an American obsession.

61ill4pqebl_aa240_.jpgI was, I have to admit, just a little bit hesitant when I tore open the package that had flown halfway across the world to me. Being a bit of a cookbook junkie, my bookshelf boasts an impressive collection of big, bold books with glossy pages and mouthwatering pictures, so this small little paperback number with the odd clipart image seemed different to me. And then, of course, there was the name of the author to contend with – Crescent Dragonwagon. With a little apprehension and an equal amount of curiosity, I sat down with the book and a pen and paper to take notes and prepared to read my way from front to back of this little curiosity I had received.

Well, it took me two days to work through, but by the time I’d reached the end, I was eager as all heck to roll up my sleeves and get my cornbread mojo on! Crescent is a wonderful writer, and all the recipes come with little anecdotes or notes, and the whole book is peppered with quotes and facts about cornbread, its history and just why it’s such a well-loved part of mealtimes in the U.S. Wonderfully organized and easy to read, it spells out the differences between Southern and Northern styles of cornbread, as well as providing possible menu ideas to serve particular cornbread recipes as a part of, and even a chapter dedicated to ‘tried, tested and true’ cornbread accompaniments, which I found extremely helpful!

During the course of my reading, I had earmarked 10 recipes that I definitely wanted to try (as well as another 5 that were probables), and proceeded to slowly work my way through them, at one stage madly emailing all my friends in the area to come and take some free cornbread as I had just tried three recipes in one day and there was only so much cornbread that one could eat at a time! As I tried the recipes in the book, I began to develop a fondness for the stuff – the dense, crumbly texture, the almost unbelievable moistness, the heft and texture that was unlike anything I’d ever had before. Sweet, savoury, breads, muffins, pancakes – who would’ve thought that something as innocent as cornbread could encompass ever so much?This book, while humble in appearance, hides an absolute wealth of information and gave me quite an education into the world of cornbread! So, if you’re a cornbread fan or just curious about it and would like to get your hands on all the cornbread information and recipes you could possibly need, I highly recommend that you give Crescent Dragonwagon‘s ‘The Cornbread Gospels‘ a try!

FOR MY AUSTRALIAN READERSHIP:

As part of my trying out recipes for this review, I had to order some white cornmeal from the US, an ingredient that I could not track down here by any means! So, I ordered a spare bag and so now I’m offering up a free 5lb (2.27kg) bag of white cornmeal which I am going to randomly give away – I’ll pay for postage to anywhere in Australia! All you have to do is leave a comment and say you’d like to be in the draw and let me know of your experiences with cornbread (a memory, an experiment, a favourite recipe, anything at all!), and I’ll be putting all the names of people entering the draw into a hat and drawing it next Sunday, the 22nd of March. The winner will be contacted by email so that I can grab their details to mail out their giant bag of white cornmeal!

Recipes:


Dairy Hollow House Skillet-Sizzled Cornbread


Mary Baird’s Johnny Cake

Dairy Hollow House Skillet-Sizzled Cornbread

Cresent Dragonwagon declares this to be the recipe that started it all, the staple cornbread that was the single most requested recipe during the time that she ran the Dairy Hollow House b&b. Having served it to a (former) president and a princess (Bill Clinton and Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia), it seemed like a great recipe to start my journey into cornbread with – and I certainly wasn’t proven wrong! Dense, fluffy, moist and tender, it went marvelously when served with some hot chili, a dollop of (light) sour cream, some perfectly ripe avocadoes and a little diced onion! I’ve made this twice since the first time and each time I try it, it renews my love for this simple yet simply terrific breadstuff :)

Dairy Hollow House Skillet-Sizzled Cornbread
(from ‘The Cornbread Gospels‘ by Crescent Dragonwagon)

Ingredients
Vegetable oil cooking spray
1 cup white all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal (finely ground polenta)
1 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup mild vegetable oil
2 tbsp butter

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C and spray a 25cm (10″) cast iron skillet with oil and set it aside.

2. Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt into one bowl, and stir together the buttermilk and baking soda in a different bowl. Into the buttermilk, then whisk the sugar, egg and oil.

3. Put the oiled skillet over medium heat, add the butter and heat till it begins to sizzle, making sure to tilt the pan so you coat all the bottom and the sides.

4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix together lightly and quickly till just combined. Scrape the batter into the skillet, then pop it into the preheated oven to bake for about 15-20 minutes, or till it’s golden. Once baked, remove from the oven and let it cool for a few minutes before slicing into wedges to serve.


I didn’t have a cast-iron skillet, but I just used a pie tin which worked pretty darn well!

[tags]cornbread, dragonwagon, chili con carne, Southern food, recipes, savoury[/tags]

Mary Baird’s Johnny Cake

One thing I tried to do when testing recipes from the cookbook was to keep it varied. After all, I wasn’t about to make multiple batches of the same sort of cornbread in a row, having quite a few to try, I knew that in order to try and avoid OD’ing in the stuff, I’d need to keep it mixed up between the sweet and savoury and ‘not strictly cornbread’ recipes. My favourite plain sweet cornbread from the book was easily this very simple recipe which came extremely highly recommended. The source of the recipe is a woman named Mary Baird and passed on by her daughter Brinna, who Crescent Dragonwagon states has a “pedigree (in baking) by both blood and marriage”.

This was the recipe that actually prompted my mother to remember and share an element of her childhood with me, a part that she had never told me before. I’ve mentioned before that my mother grew up on a farm in a rather rural area, far from the city smoke, and her fellow students were the mostly farmer’s children, from families who were anything but rich. For those of you who are unaware, South Korea, though it is a democracy, is also an ‘occupied’ country, having an extremely strong American presence all over the country and it has been so since the Korean war (which technically isn’t over). Anyway, as I pulled this out of the oven and its sweet buttery smell filled the kitchen, my mother followed her nose in and her eyes lit up when she saw what it was that I’d baked. Apparently, since her school and district had been rather poor, the local US base would give bags of cornmeal to the school kitchens to bake into cornbread to feed the students with, and a piece of this fresh out of the oven, spread with a little scraping of butter and a dollop of jam brought back old memories for her.

Though best when fresh, this is also marvellous when split in half and toasted and spread with butter and jam, to be enjoyed with a glass of ice-cold milk, enjoy it in a similar way (though it is quite different) to a sweet scone!

Mary Baird’s Johnny Cake
(From ‘The Cornbread Gospels‘ by Crescent Dragonwagon)

Ingredients
Vegetable oil cooking spray
1 cup white all-purpose flour
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal (finely ground polenta)
1/3 cup caster sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1 cup milk
2/3 tbsp butter, melted

1. Preheat oven to 210 degrees C, and spray a square baking pain with oil and set aside.

2. Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl and set aside. Break the eggs into a seperate bowl and whisk together well, then add the milk and melted butter and whisk till well-combined.

3. Mix together the wet and dry ingredients till just combined, then transfer the mixture to the prepared pan. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20-25 min, or till golden brown.

4. Allow to cool slightly before cutting into squares, and serve warm with some butter and homemade jam!

[tags]cornbread, dragonwagon, Southern food, recipes, johnny cake, King Arthur Flour[/tags]

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