Show off your holiday lights and you could win an iPad! Enter your photo by December 13. Winner will be selected by popular vote.
Down-home cooking doesn’t get much better than old-fashioned cornbread.
A bowl of black-eyed peas is a perfect accompaniment to fresh cornbread.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Two years ago, my brother Tommy and his wife Brianna packed up their Harrisonburg home, hopped on a plane and moved to a land far away — otherwise known as London.
Through our conversations about London life, I’ve learned that Triscuits, specialty-flavored coffee creamers and beef jerky are hard to come by in the city of royal babies, tea time and fish ’n’ chips.
Thanks to my mom and other kind foodie souls, their cupboards rarely lack such items, but my brother still misses the home cookin’ we both were fortunate to grow up with.
You see, Tommy and I were raised on a family farm in Bath County. We lived on the Cowpasture River, where we, our cows and our cousins spent many hot summer days. We harvested garden goods, prepared by our mother, aunt and neighbors who knew how to cook — and I mean really cook.
Food has always been at the heart of our Hardbarger heritage. No occasion is too little or insignificant for a spread of dynamite dishes. So, when my mom and I learned my brother was coming home for a visit next week, we immediately began planning a menu — a special one just for Tommy.
Tailored to suit
One of my brother’s favorite food pairings is black-eyed peas and cornbread . My mom used to make these crispy, dense cornbread muffins accomplished by preheating the pan with shortening and omitting eggs from the recipe. The black-eyed peas were delicious, too, but the meal’s highlight was definitely those muffins, and more importantly, the way my brother chose to eat them.
Tommy would slice the muffin, scoop out the innards of the bottom half and carefully spoon some of the peas into it, making a sort of cornbread muffin bowl creation. Making sure not to waste any, he usually topped the other half with a slab of butter or crumbled it into the rest of the peas. This delicate process was repeated many times ’round the table.
The hearty meal was often accompanied by a garden tomato, and I recall my dad topping his bowl with a mountain of chopped white onion and a generous amount of hot sauce.
Sentimentality struck recently, and I got a hankering for this meal. It was chilly outside and the leaves were changing, but mostly I was missing my brother. So I emailed my mom for the secret behind those savory muffins.
Turns out, there really is no secret. In fact, the recipe is displayed on the back of the Martha White brand cornmeal mix for all to see.
Popular in the South, cornbread is a staple comfort food found on many dining room tables. Its roots can be traced back to when the Europeans landed in North America. Native Americans learned early to dry and grind corn into cornmeal, the main component of the quick bread.
While my brother prefers the dense muffin version, the bread can be prepared numerous ways to adapt to particular tastes. And when it comes to corn bread, people can be picky.
A variety of recipes
Some like sweet cornbread, so they add sugar. Some like it spicy, so they use diced jalapenos. Some recipes call for a can of corn or creamed corn for texture or added moisture.
Then comes the preparation. A cast-iron skillet, well-oiled and heated, can give the bread a crunchy exterior. I’ve also eaten cake-like cornbread cooked in an 8-by-8-inch pan .
The versatile bread pairs well with all sorts of soups and stews, and when I recently decided to duplicate Mom’s recipe, I immediately began salivating over a bowl of Crock Pot chili. But after a long day of work, I opted for a can of soup I already had in the pantry.
Martha’s recipe calls for four basic ingredients: egg, milk, oil and the cornmeal mix. I oiled the muffin tins in shortening, set the temperature at 450, scooted the pan in the oven and moved on to mixing the batter. Once incorporated, I pulled the hot pan out of the oven. The batter sizzled when it hit the pan, just as I remembered. Then the wait began.
Not five minutes in, and smoke filled the kitchen — a result, I quickly discovered, of a sneaky hot pad that clung to the bottom of the pan. Windows opened and crisis averted, the smell of my childhood eventually drifted through my Christiansburg apartment. I shared a taste of it with my coworkers the next day.
Dense, fluffy, sweet, salty, corn-kernel- or jalapeno-filled — however you like it, cornbread, to me, will always represent down-on-the-farm comfort and rekindle fond memories of my brother.
As the next week passes by (hopefully very quickly) I’ll be counting down the days until I get to pick up Tommy from the airport and head home for that sizzling pan of cornbread muffins.
Weather JournalPossible scrape with snow Tues