Sunday, May 06, 2012

Sunday Serving: Grandma's Scratch Cornbread

I can't stand sweet cornbread. I won't eat it.

I crave the savory goodness of my Grandma's southern scratch cornbread. Baked in a skillet and the perfect side for almost any southern dish. This preference is just about the only distinction that makes me a true Southerner in defiance of my Yankee friends who prefer sweet cornbread.

Cornbread is one of the oldest truly American recipes with the earliest versions dating back to the Native Americans prior to Europeans arriving on the continent.

Corn is cheap. It has always been. It probably always will be. And most cultures have some form of corn based food as a staple in their diet--tortillas, pap, sadza, polenta, porridge.

I've picked cornbread as the Sunday Serving this week because it's back to the basics. Cornbread and it's corn-based relatives connect to hard times. They're the food of recession and depression. They're the food of poverty and of hunger. But they are also foods of connection and common history.

For most South Africans, pap (Americans, think grits but a lot stiffer) is a thread connecting them to each other, to their past and to their future. Many eat it at least once a day if not for every meal. It is so much part of their lives that when I told people you could not buy mealie meal (a type of corn flour used for preparing pap) in the US, they looked at me with shock and horror. This could simply not be possible. What do you eat then?

I cooked pap for my parents for the first time last week. As I dished it up on their plates, I felt I was extending that common thread to them as it was extended to me. I was connecting them with the history and lives of people and a country I fell in love with much as my grandmother's cornbread had connected me to her life--the hardships and the joys. I'm pretty sure Grandma felt about her cornbread the way my South African friends feel about their pap, and I'm willing to bet she ate it just about as often.

Last week the House of Representatives proposed cuts of more than $169 billion to SNAP, formerly the food stamp program. This after a report released on April 10th verifying SNAP reduced the poverty rate by 8% in 2009.

Currently more than 46 million Americans benefit from SNAP, more than half of them are children.

Another new report this week reported 1 in 7 senior adults face the threat of hunger. After I posted this report, my friend Leslie commented:

"My grandmother received Meals on Wheels for a number of years. We would do what we could to help assist her with groceries as well, but even at 10 and 11 years of age, it is so very sad to hear your grandmother worry about money and whether she could afford groceries or her medication and not both, then making the decision to not take necessary medication.
I donate to [Meals on Wheels] and other senior assistance programs when I can, but sometimes I feel it is not enough.
I am also not ashamed to say, or admit if you will, that for a short time back in 2010, I was a SNAP recipient. I had to take a pay cut and was making a lot less money. It was a little embarrassing at first, and I only had them for six months, but it was out of dire necessity. Paychecks were going to rent and bills with little, if any, left over. I was blessed, to say the least, and even though it was a rough period, I am thankful to have experienced it. No one should ever have to make a decision like eating or not eating. That's a basic human right and need."
I absolutely agree we need to do something about our debt and something about out spending. I also agree we need better aid--to streamline the system, get government departments to work together and make an altogether more efficient and more cost effective welfare system and international aid system. But I do not agree that drastically cutting SNAP as proposed without looking for ways to first improve the system and make it more cost effective is the way to go and it will drastically effect the lives of millions of Americans, many of them the most vulnerable in our society.

Bread for the World has started a petition asking Americans to stand up and say no this proposed injustice. You can add your name here and find out more about the proposed cuts on their website.

Many thanks to Leslie for giving her permission to publish her comments here.

Grandma's Scratch Cornbread:


  • 1 1/2 cups corn meal (South Africans, I've been told you can make decent cornbread with mealie meal, but I never tried it.)
  • 1/2 cup flour 
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda 
  • 1 teaspoon salt 
  • 2 cups buttermilk 
  • 1 egg 
  • 3 tablespoons shortening 


  1. Mix dry ingredients. Add buttermilk and egg.
  2. In an iron skillet melt shortening. Pour melted shortening into batter, stir, and immediately pour batter back into your hot skillet. (You do not have to use an iron skillet, but your cornbread will not be as tasty. An iron skillet adds additional seasoning and if well maintained, your cornbread will taste better and better over time.) 
  3. Bake at 400°F (200°C) until golden on top (approximately 20 min).

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