Monday, May 25, 2009

Is That A Piece of Cornbread In Your Pocket…

 

My grandmother made the world’s best biscuits.

She passed away 20 years ago and I have been trying to replicate them ever since. Her biscuits were small, light, and slightly salty with a hint buttermilk. She never followed a recipe, yet they were consistent every time she made them. I could eat a dozen over the course of a Sunday afternoon meal.

A few years ago I gave a speech in Natchez. Afterwards my hosts invited me to lunch at the Carriage House Restaurant. At the Carriage House, they served my grandmother’s biscuits, or at least a recipe that tasted exactly like my grandmother’s biscuits. They were great. I ate a dozen of them.

Yesterday, I was invited to be a part of an after-church luncheon to celebrate a friend’s book release. The meal was of the standard Deep-South-after-church-Sunday-meal variety— roast beef, gravy, corn, beans, fried okra, and iced tea— right up my alley, and all good.

There was a basket of cornbread— sticks and muffins— at the end of the sideboard. I opted for a stick. I took one bite and was instantly transformed to my grandmother’s table. My grandmother served biscuits with formal Sunday lunches, but cornbread with casual Saturday afternoon meals. This cornbread tasted just like my grandmothers.

The cornbread at my friend Chalie’s (note to editors: the name is “Chalie”—no “r”) house was crisp on the bottom from baking in hot cast-iron and dusted with a light sprinkling of corn meal. It wasn’t sweet, crumbly, cakelike, or dense. It was everything I require from a stick of cornbread. Beautiful.

I threw manners out the window and placed a second and third piece of cornbread on my plate. I ate a few pieces of okra and pushed some roast beef around and then grabbed my fourth piece of cornbread.

The table conversation was rapid-fire and graciously raucous. I spoke a little, but held back because my mother always told me not to speak with my mouth full, and at this meal my mouth always seemed to be crammed with cornbread.

Every once in a while I would add to the conversation with something like, “Did someone steal my cornbread?” Or “I could have sworn that there were two pieces of cornbread on my plate just a few seconds ago.”

There was no subtle way of gorging myself with cornbread because the basket was located across the room and I had to get up and walk over to it every time I wanted another piece. Had the basket been on the table, I could have placed it in front of me and then pointed to an imaginary something out the window. “Is that a woolly mammoth in the front yard?  And while everyone’s heads were turned I could have grabbed a few pieces of cornbread and hidden them in my lap.

I was debating on slipping a few cornbread sticks in my pocket and taking them into the bathroom to eat in private when I noticed that all of the sticks were gone— only muffins remained. But I wasn’t finished. I wanted more. I was desperate, but no so desperate as to walk around the house with cornbread muffins poking out of my front pockets— sticks, maybe… muffins— no way.

The lunch was being served during a thunderstorm. By the time the electricity went out, I was on my seventh piece of cornbread. In the dark, I snuck over to the sideboard to nab number eight. I don’t think anyone saw me. They might have heard some contented moaning and smacking coming from my end of the table, but there was no visual evidence of my gluttony.

“No dessert, thank you. Is there any more cornbread?"

Just for one brief moment I was back at my grandmother’s table, for that I will be forever grateful.

 

Summer Succotash

 

3 Tbl                         Bacon grease (or canola oil)

2 cups                         Squash, medium dice

1 /4 cup             Onion, small chopped

1                         Red bell pepper, medium dice

1 cup                         Fresh butter beans, cooked

1cup                         Silverqueen Corn kernels, freshly scraped

1 /2 cup             Chicken broth

2 tsp                         Creole Seasoning

1 tsp                         Thyme

1 /2 tsp                        Rosemary

1 Tbl                        Butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat bacon grease over medium high heat. Add squash, onion and bell pepper. Cook until softened. Add beans and corn. Continue cooking for two minutes. Add chicken broth. 

4 comments:

John said...

Thank You! Your post brought up vivid memories growing up in the South and diving into my mother's cornbread and grandmother's biscuits. I still melt at the thought of them and can make a meal of even my humble attempts to repeat their magic.

CrazyBrideCrazyWife said...

I miss my Mamaw's cornbread and my Daddys also - now I live in California and they make this fluffy yellow square they call cornbread - to me it tastes like cake because it has sugar in it.

There is nothing like true Southern cornbread.

Crescent Dragonwagon said...

Robert, I found this piece so charming that I put a link on it up at "I Love Cornbread" (http://cornbreadlove.ning.com/)...

I am, as you maybe know, a fellow cookbook author, and, speaking of James Beard (as you were previously) a JB Award winner. AND I spent six years researching The Cornbread Gospels (http://www.amazon.com/Cornbread-Gospels-Crescent-Dragonwagon/dp/0761119167) . I would love to get my publisher to send you a review copy --- you and the book just belong together! Email me your snailmail address if you would, and it shall be done. I'm at cdragonwagon@gmail.com. Many thanks and many more happy golden crumbs...

Anonymous said...

Okay, you've made me hungry for this cornbread. Where is the recipe?!