This is a job for your grandmother’s cast-iron frying pan!
Talk to a southern cook about cornbread, and a New Englander like me may well end up in a verbal disagreement over two aspects: the addition of flour and the addition of sugar. The southern cook will probably tell you that neither has a place in “real” cornbread!
Usually, the sweet is in the South…
I have always found this interesting because in general, I’ve observed New Englanders do not like their foods nearly as sweet as Southerners! Our desserts use less sugar, our baked goods, puddings, even iced tea., are never as sweet as some of the dishes I had in the south, including desserts that made my teeth ache just looking at them. And yet, here is cornbread, where I’m told it is almost a felony to add a pinch of sugar.
To make matters even more interesting, when I lived down south, my landlady, Ms. Green, gave me her cornbread recipe and it had both flour and sugar, quite bit of sugar! Go figure. As with all dishes, regional or otherwise, it all depends on how your mother made the recipe, and mine, a Yankee, added both, but not a lot of each.
Early staple grain
Whether south or the north, corn was an important staple grain for our early settlers, given to us by the native population. When I say given I probably mean we stole it, but that is another story. In the North, wheat did not grow well, so we used more corn, rye, and buckwheat, all of which suited our climate.
Cornbread is quick and easy, but can be made with endless variations. My dear friend Crescent Dragonwagon wrote the definitive book on cornbread and all things quick made with cornmeal “The Cornbread Gospels,” Workman Publishing Company Inc, New York, NY, 2007. If there is anything to know about cornbread, you’ll find it in these pages!
One of my own variation on one of my mom’s recipes is to add corn kernels, usually left over grilled or roasted corn, but in the middle of winter, frozen works. Additionally, this time around I wanted some fall color in the cornbread so I added a poblano pepper, a bit of sweet red pepper, and some scallions. Yum!
Cooked in a pre-heated, cast-iron skillet, the only way Mom cooked it, cornbread develops a beautiful crust on the bottom and sides. I use my mom’s cast-iron skillet, which was also her mothers. I can only imagine the dishes that have come out of that pan, and I still use it all the time!
How about some Vermont Cheddar?
To make it even crustier, I sprinkled just a bit of Cheddar cheese on top of mine. It added a nice browned cheese note, which went beautifully with the browned butter I started it all off with, my other addition! My mom used bacon fat to grease her pans, she always had a coffee can of it sitting by the stove. I used a mix of butter and olive oil.
And, some Vermont cornmeal as well!
Look for stoneground cornmeal for the best flavor, it does make a difference. Most supermarket cornmeal is ground with steel rollers and more of the hull of the corn is lost in the process. Stoneground is exactly what it sounds like, meal that is ground between two stones, and more of the whole corn is retained. You will find fine, medium, and coarse, and I like the medium the best, a good balance of texture. If I’m lucky, I find the local meal produced by the Nitty Gritty Grain Company in northern Vermont. It is naturally sweet, so I do not have to use much sweetener, just two tablespoons of maple syrup.
Cornbread is always best the day it is made, but this one is nice and moist so it is great the next morning for breakfast as well!
Yankee Skillet Cornbread
- 1 stick butter, browned, plus 1 tbsp.
- 1 ¼ cups stone ground cornmeal, local if possible
- 1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 tbsp. maple syrup or native honey
- 2 cups buttermilk
- 3 large eggs, beaten
- 1 poblano pepper, minced
- 1 mini sweet red pepper, minced
- ½ cup corn kernels
- 2 scallions, whites and greens
- 1 cup grated Cheddar cheese to top
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees and place your cast-iron frying pan on the middle rack to heat up.
Place the stick of butter in a stainless-steel sauté pan over medium heat and gently swirl until the butter begins to brown. The butter will foam, and will start to smell nutty. Immediately put in a bowl to cool to room temperature.
In the same pan, add a teaspoon of olive oil and the peppers. Sauté for a minute or so, just until starting to soften.
In a large bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, soda, and salt. Mix well.
To the cooled butter, add the maple syrup, buttermilk, and eggs. Combine and gently mix into the cornmeal mixture along with the peppers, corn, and scallions.
Remove the frying pan from the oven and add a tablespoon of olive oil along with the last tablespoon of butter, brushing it around and up the sides.
Immediately add the batter and place back in the oven. It will instantly start to sizzle and set on the edges!
Bake for 15 minutes and sprinkle the top evenly with the cheese. Return to the oven and continue to bake for another 10 to15 minutes, or until the bread is set and the top nicely browned, but don’t overcook, the most common reason for a dry cornbread!
Let cool a few minutes before slicing!
Non-dairy: You can also make this non-dairy by substituting unsweetened soy milk soured with 2 tbsp. white vinegar, and using shredded vegan cheese or omitting it altogether.
One of my mothers many cornbread recipes:
Sylvia’s Corn Bread
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1 1/3 cup stone ground cornmeal
- 1 tbsp double-acting baking powder
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup melted butter
- ¼ cup bacon fat
- 1 cup milk
Heat iron frying pan or cornbread pan in 425 degree oven.
Combine flour, cornmeal, and baking powder. In a separate bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and whisk well. Add to the cornmeal mixture just until combined.
Remove pan from oven and brush with bacon grease. Return to oven and cook for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown and firm to the touch. Do not let it overcook or it will be dry.
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Love the addition of maple syrup!! 👍 pinned!
It adds just the right amount of sweet without turning it into cake! Thank you for stopping by!
Cornbread was a staple when I was growing up. My Mom made it more savory than sweet but in recent years I have acquired a taste for sweeter cornbread. The addition of maple syrup sounds delicious!
Thank you so much! The maple is subtle in this, but enhances the sweetness naturally in the corn.
This post brought back memories. I am from the South and cornbread was something we had every dinner when I was growing up. It was made with cornmeal, eggs, bacon fat, fresh milk with pinch of salt and baking powder. We had cast iron cornbread pans and cornbread was always made in them. It made the cornbread almost all crispy crust. My dad loved white cornmeal as he thought tasted better. We also greased the pans with bacon fat.
I had never had sweet cornbread until I married a Yankee and his mother made cornbread. It was all I could do not to spit it out, I was so shocked. Later, my mother-in-law feed sweet cornbread to my 3 year old daughter, who then decided she loved sweet cornbread and my cornbread just wasn’t as good.
LOL! See what I mean about the corn bread absolutes! It’s funny, I should have mentioned that my mom always used bacon fat to grease her pans too, and I’ll probably go back and add that. Thanks for the reminder. What lovely memories of your weeknight suppers and cornbread. My mom had a cast-iron cornbread pan that was divided into wedges. She rarely used it, preferring her frying pan, I think probably she wanted to cut more pieces!
We always called the cornbread my mother made cornbread sticks. The pans had “ears” of corn that would hold the batter. When Thanksgiving came around, she would make a lot of cornbread in a cast iron skillet to use for stuffing.
I’ve seen those pan! They are really sweet and I can see how the proportion of crispy outer to tender inner would be remarkable!
One of those things you crave! It is a must when I make my veggie chili!
Wow I never knew cornbread could be made in a skillet…..I must try this sometime Dorothy 🤗😍🎀
Most of the people I know who make cornbread, make it in a cast-iron frying pan! It has to be a nice heavy pan that holds onto the heat well. Thanks for stopping by!
I have only made sweet cornbread🙈🙈🙈🙈….I only look at sugary things🤭😅😉🤭…..I’ll try your cast iron recipe next time🤗
Great Ruelha! It is fun to cook in the skillet, as Chef Mimi mentioned! Enjoy!
this looks so yummy! everyone needs a good cornbread recipe. i love your blog and followed, hope you are willing to do the same 🙂
Thank you! Yes, a good cornbread recipe is great to have ready! I will certainly check out your blog!!!!! Thank you for following.
I admit to knowing that true southern cornbread does not have sugar in it. I also admit to putting sugar in my cornbread– which for some reason makes me feel guilty. Like I’ve done something terribly wrong even though I live north of the Mason-Dixon Line. I am a complicated person…
Thanks for the chuckle! Well, if you use maple syrup, you can truthfully say you don’t put sugar in your cornbread…
This sounds so good! I love maple syrup in anything so this is a win!
Thank you Samantha! It is moist and delicious!
I bet there are times that you don’t let it cool before slicing. 🙂 Looks absolutely delicious.
Thank you. Well, I will confess, you are right, sometimes we just can’t wait!
I don’t know why it’s so much fun to make cornbread in a skillet, but it is! Love all of the goodies you added to it.
Thanks Mimi! It really is. Sometimes we also make the spider cake, a cornbread that has milk or cream dumped on the top before puttimng in the oven. That is lots of fun too!
oh my goodness this sounds and looks amazing!
Thank you so much! It is a satisfying, homey bread!
and the cooler weather is perfect for homey! 🙂
You bet! All I want to do is cook…and eat!
🙂 i get that!
Nope! No Way! Stolen!!! 🤣
That’s deep south Texas cornbread right there! Yummy!
Ha ha! So many variations! We’ll call it Vermont-Tex Cornbread (you’ll call it Tex-Vermont) …
As a Brit I have only made cornbread once…a couple of months ago…It had the worst comments I have ever had from my family..I also totally agreed there was actually nothing nice about it whatsoever…it was plain with no additions of onions, chill, or peppers and I have been studying other recipes but not yet taken the plunge…Yours does look delicious I also like the idea of the cheese 🙂
Well, when you’ve recovered from the initial cornbread shock, give it another try, just make sure to use flour and sweet of some kind, says the Yank!
Ok.. I will take that advice on board especially from a Yank as it is your heritage… 😀
Growing up, we used to eat “Johnny Cake” for breakfast. 😋🍂🧡
Yes, we had those too! Really delicious. I made some recently in miniature for little appetizers; they were great, and they do remind me of childhood!
I’m not sure why cornbread is made any other way!
Thank you, I totally agree!
I’ll save you a slice!
I can’t wait to try this beautiful recipe!! You have magically combined so many of my favorite ingredients!!
Thank you! I’m sure you will love it as much as me!
Thank you! One of our all-time favorites!
Yum!! Think I’ll try this with our Thanksgiving dinner this year
Wonderful, I hope you will enjoy it as much as we do!
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