I was taken aback when I read the two-word comment describing Mississippians’ most searched-for internet recipe. But there it was in the list of most popular recipe searches for every state. Turns out, Google keeps up with our midnight searches for “How to turn milk into buttermilk” and “Why is my cheesecake cracking?" I refuse to believe the majority of us don’t know how to make cornbread or have a wealth of family cornbread recipes readily available. This is Mississippi, for Pete’s sake, the state in which we’re taught to love and bake cornbread from the time we can walk.
Also, I’m not sure the word, “figures” was meant in a positive way. What are they saying, our culinary tastes are banal? I speak for all Mississippians when I say we’re proud of our dependence on the bread that’s the cornerstone of our dinner tables.
Back to the Google list – I’m shocked that cooks in Massachusetts, home of the first Thanksgiving, need the most help in cooking a turkey. However, it’s not hard to believe folks in Michigan regularly search for a good gravy recipe…but Alabama’s great southern cooks? That must be an error, Google.
However, I can believe Washington State needs more assistance than others in frying chicken. Down here, we’re experts at frying as well as baking, roasting and grilling our biggest agricultural export.
Here’s a little background on the bread that’s graced our dinner tables for centuries. Unbelievably, besides “cornbread,” there are over 350 names for skillet bread made with cornmeal. Johnnycakes, corn pone, hoecake and crackling are most commonly used, as least in our part of the country. Surprisingly, Mississippi can’t take credit for inventing one of our favorite breads.
Historical records show that starving pilgrims learned how to make cornbread in 1620 from the local Indians, who showed them how to grind and use corn for eating during the first cold winter at Plymouth Rock. When the Pilgrims landed, most of the wheat they had brought from England had spoiled on the long voyage. So, cornbread played a valuable role in keeping the Pilgrims going and in the long run, in fueling our forefathers as they built our nation.
Fast forward nearly 300 years and we’re still a nation that loves its cornbread.
I grew up eating cornbread on a near-daily basis, but don’t have time now to make it very often. The good news is, delicious skillet bread is as close as your local diner and most notable, Ridgeland’s Cock of the Walk at the Reservoir.
Their signature bread is served in the most delightful way with fried catfish and turnip greens. Waiters in charge of flipping hot bread from a sizzling skillet to waiting plates claim guests come from around the country to watch the show and partake of crunchy, delicious, straight-from-the-skillet cornbread.
In my own kitchen, a bowl of thick chili during the winter wouldn’t be the same without a side of hot, buttery cornbread. After trying a couple of versions, I settled on one with a liberal dose of buttermilk. The rich dairy product creates moist, smooth slices.
Before you ask, I wouldn’t dream of adding sugar to my cornbread. I’ll leave that to our northern friends.
To make my go-to buttermilk cornbread, heat the oven to 450 degrees, add a little oil in the bottom of an 8-inch cast iron skillet and place it in the oven for about five minutes.
While the oil is heating, combine a cup of yellow cornbread with a tablespoon of all-purpose flour, 1-1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and quarter teaspoon each of baking soda and salt.
In a smaller bowl, whisk together a cup of buttermilk and one egg, then add to dry ingredients. Stir wet and dry mixtures together just until moistened, pour into the hot skillet and bake at 20 minutes or until top is golden.
The weather’s a little too warm for chili, so to get my cornbread fix, it’s time for a light and colorful cornbread salad. Several recipes can be found for the layered dish, including those with a Mexican theme courtesy of beans, salsa and cheese. I prefer the light southern version made with two of my favorite ingredients, bacon and tomatoes. Bolstered by a light base of Mississippi’s most googled recipe, it’s the perfect way to welcome spring.
It’s Spring Cornbread Salad
16 ounces cornbread muffin mix
2/3 cup milk
1 pound bacon
1/2 cup sweet pickle juice
1-1/2 cups mayonnaise
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, diced
1 cup chopped sweet pickles
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x13 inch pan.
Combine the cornbread muffin mix, eggs and milk, stir until just combined. Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside to cool. When bread is cool, crumble into bite-size chunks.
In a large skillet, cook bacon until evenly brown. Drain, crumble and set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together the pickle juice and mayonnaise and set aside.
In a large bowl layer one-half of the crumbled cornbread followed by the onion, pepper, tomatoes and pickles. Drizzle with one-half of the dressing and repeat. Top with bacon and chill for 1 hour.