May 18, 2021

A hot pan of crispy cornbread is always welcome. I dodge the question of sugar or no sugar and rely instead on Edna Lewis‘ perfect sugar-free cornbread recipe because no one else speaks so clearly when I want a classic Southern recipe. When I first read Miss Lewis’ book, The Taste of Country Cooking, I was compelled to start again once I’d finished, breathing every word in one more time. It won’t take more than a day or two to read this beautiful volume, and it’s a perfect prelude to the Netflix series High on the Hog, premiering May 28. Read Osayi Endolyn’s thoughtful essay in the NYTimes (paywall).

You can make this in a well buttered, parchment-lined, 9 inch round cake pan, but a cast iron skillet will make the cornbread extra crispy and much more authentic. I like to use Anson Mills fine cornmeal or any cornmeal you can find that is locally milled. It will taste more like corn than the bags at the grocery store.

Sour milk was called for in the original recipe (add 1 tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup whole milk.) I prefer buttermilk for the characteristic tang and tender, moist crumb.

Homemade, freshly stirred together BAKING POWDER is another of Miss Lewis’ most useful recipes. I keep a jar with the ratio written on the lid and make it fresh whenever needed. Two parts cream of tartar and one part baking soda. Never buy baking powder again.

Makes one 8-, 9-, or 10-inch cornbread.

1 1/2 cups fine ground cornmeal

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 3/4 cups buttermilk or sour milk

2 eggs

1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen (no need to defrost)

2 tablespoons butter


Preheat oven to 450F. Place a castiron skillet in the oven to heat, too.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, baking powder and salt.

In another mixing bowl (or a measuring cup with a spout), whisk together the buttermilk and eggs.

Use a fork to combine the dry and wet ingredients.

Place the butter in the hot cast iron pan in the oven. Let it melt and when it smells nutty and has browned, remove the pan from the oven carefully. Pour the melted butter into the batter, use a pastry brush to coat the pan with the remaining bits of butter, then pour the batter back into the hot pan. Return the pan to the oven and bake until the cornbread is golden brown and pulling away from the sides, anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of your skillet.

Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then place a serving dish or cutting board over the pan and invert the cornbread onto the dish. If this inversion is too scary to contemplate or just not happening for whatever reason, go ahead and cut and serve slices straight out of the pan. I’m not going to tell.

Variation: For a lovely breakfast cake, add 1/2 cup of blueberries to the batter along with the corn. The tart, sweet, slightly chewy combination of blueberries and corn is one of my favorite tastes of high summer.



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