My mother's standby

I'd like to talk about cornbread today. And I'm guessing, based on last night's showing between the Jets and the Patriots, that most of you would also like to talk about cornbread today. Or chili. Anything, really, besides that game. I try to be accommodating.

The cornbread in question is from the Moosewood Cookbook, and it's my mother's standby. She used to make it a lot when my sister and I were younger, I think because it was a way of getting something quick and healthy and homemade on the table, and she always baked it in an old scalloped cast iron pie plate. That was key, because it meant every slice—every wedge, that is, since it was a round pie plate—got a piece of the middle, right on the first bite. The middle was invariably the best part, the most moist, and if the cornbread hadn't been cut this way, I have a feeling there would have been a lot of hair pulling and pinching.

Anyway, I pulled the recipe out for the game last night. My mother annotated my copy of the Moosewood with all of her old notes—things like "Always simmer, never boil!" next to the Russian Cabbage Borscht recipe (the beets will lose their color, apparently)—but curiously, there's no note next to the cornbread. It's one of those recipes, she must have decided, that didn't need explanation or praising.

And really, she's right. It's simple—the secret, I think, is in the cup of buttermilk and the three tablespoons of honey and the quality of the cornmeal you use. Grinding down the dent corn from our grain CSA was still on my to-do list (isn't it gorgeous?!), so when I finally got around to it yesterday, our cornmeal was only minutes old for the bread.

And the bread came out beautifully. The color was a little different—it wasn't so yellow as I remember it, since our corn was also equal parts blue and red—but it had a kind of pale, wintery beauty. And most importantly, it tasted good. So good, in fact, that despite my square pan, it got us through the game—without any pinching, or hair pulling.


What I like about this recipe is that I'm always almost certain to have all the ingredients on hand. It also takes only about 10 minutes from start to oven, and bakes in about twenty minutes, making it an ideal just-before-dinner recipe. I've made it with both all-purpose flour and whole wheat, and I like both in their own way.

butter to grease the pan
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose or whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk, yogurt, or sour cream
1 egg
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8" x 8" square pan or a 9" pie dish and set aside.

Whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk (or whatever you choose), egg, honey, and butter. (I like to mix the honey into the butter first in order to help it dissolve. It also cools the butter down, which is nice for the egg.)

Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the top starts to get golden around the edges and the center is firm to the touch. It's better to undercook this recipe than to overcook it; the bread tends to dry out when overdone.


Anonymous said...

Oh, yes, one of my faves, Elspeth! If I had written anything about it in your Moosewood, it would have been "Don't overcook!" -- as you noted. Undercooking is definitely preferable. The trick is that this cornbread goes from just perfectly undercooked to overcooked in about 1 minute. Remember that it will keep cooking for a few minutes once you pull it out of the oven, so slightly undercooking it is best. The "worst" that can happen if you undercook it too much is that the center will be really gooey (yum). ~xo, Mama

Lucky Dog Ptown said...

Perfection....Thank you!!!

Beth said...

Ooh, I can't wait to make this. Are you grinding your grains by hand?

Elspeth said...


Phew! Glad to know I covered the basics.


You're welcome! It is such an oldie but a goodie.

And Beth,

Not by hand! That would be near to impossible. We got the grain grinding attachment for our KitchenAid—not as nice as some of the other mills out there but much more affordable.

Hope everyone is staying dry and warm today!

All the best,

Anonymous said...

Elspeth, one other thing: you can add about 3/4 cup of fresh or frozen blueberries to the batter. I've never added cranberries, but I bet they would be good too. Let's try that sometime when we are cooking together! I have a bunch in the freezer. The bread would be so beautiful too! ~xo, Mama

Bethany said...

Hi, I joined the grain CSA this year and somehow found my way to your site. I've got the Kitchenaid mill attachment too, but heard I couldn't use the corn in the mill, so I've been avoiding trying it. Soooo, I can mill my corn? Do you put it on the biggest setting then regrind on a tighter setting? Please help! I've been dying to try out the corn but haven't yet!

Anonymous said...

Hi Elspeth (and Bethany),
I'd be interested in learning more about the grain CSA. I'm out in California, so wouldn't be able to participate myself, but am curious to learn how it works, what type of grains you get, if it all comes from one farm or a cooperative, etc.
Thanks for the nice recipe too!

Elspeth said...


Hmm. Maybe I did something I wasn't supposed to (this would not surprise me), but it worked fine. I put it in on the coarsest setting first (I do that with all my grains) and then worked my way down. I found that the corn immediately—on that first grind—split into pretty coarse chunks and then a good deal of pretty fine stuff—so I sifted it before I put the coarse stuff back in. Then I think it took twice more on descending settings to get it to the point where it looked like stoneground cornmeal. I hope that helps!

Hi Emmett,

It's such a great program. You can read more on the website, over here: http://www.localgrain.org/csa.html, but this year we got whole dent corn, several types of wheat, several types of beans, spelt, oat groats, buckwheat, and probably a few other things that I am forgetting. Oh yeah, rye! There are two pick-ups and you get everything in the late fall, usually between November and January. You should start one out there!

All the best,

Emmett said...

Thanks Elspeth,
I checked out the website and it looks great. The photos are awesome--I'm jealous. I would love to start one out here, but I don't know of anyone growing all that stuff nearby. Hmmm...I guess I'll just have to grow them myself :)
Well, here's to hoping!

Anonymous said...

I made this over the weekend to go along with yet ANOTHER batch of your portuguese kale soup and it was so delicious. The perfect dinner for this sub-zero-degree weather we are having! I like mama's idea of putting blueberries in it, too. That would make a delicious breakfast! xoxo anna

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