COLUMN: Cornbread 101

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For whatever reason, I decided today was going to be the day. Without hesitation, I walked into the bedroom with purpose and called to my wife Carol, who was watching a movie on her iPad.

I got right to the point and said, “Hey, the time’s come. I should have done this a long time ago. Today I want you to teach me how to make cornbread. And once you do that, show me how to make pecan pies. Then I will have no further use for your services.”

She looked over her iPad and said, “Do you know the only reason I even keep you around is for lawn maintenance and minor home repair.”

Touché.

She followed me into the kitchen, which is my domain now. That’s because I enjoy cooking, and Carol, well let’s just generously say it’s more of a chore for her.

There are two exceptions to this rule. She can cook pecan pies and cornbread. I’ve seen the proof at many a church covered dish where her pecan pie vanishes early, and her plate of cornbread is always empty. So today I was going to force her to reveal one of her dark secrets, one that I’m sure has been passed down for generations. At last, I was going to learn the secret of making proper cornbread.

She immediately opened the pantry door and pulled out a package of cornmeal mix from a secret stash. Then from the very back of the fridge, a quart of buttermilk and an egg.

After grabbing a mixing bowl, she picked up the cornmeal package, turned it over, and said, “The directions are right here on the back, and I just follow them.”

“What? That’s it?” I asked incredulously. “No secret ingredients? No magical incantation passed down from little old ladies in bifocals?”

I felt like a student at Hogwarts who had been told there was no such thing as magic.

I continued by saying, “The next thing you’ll tell me is the recipe for green bean casserole is on the back of a can of Campbell’s Mushroom soup.”

“Joe, that recipe IS on the back of a can of Campbell’s Mushroom Soup.”  

This cooking lesson was becoming more traumatic with each passing minute.

Carol continued, “Now there is one secret, one thing you must have for good cornbread.”

I perked up. And she produced an old cast iron skillet, brandishing it like a wizard’s wand. “This was my grandmother’s. An old, seasoned cast iron skillet is what really does it. But first, you coat it with oil, swish it around, then place it in a hot oven.”

I knew there had to be some special secret to all this. The magic skillet! Of course. I felt better – that is, until I saw the next step.

While the oven heated, my wife reached in a lower cabinet, pulled out a small tub and put it on the counter. I knew what it was and I knew what she was about to do. My face turned white. The fear of eternal damnation rose in my soul. I recoiled in horror. Carol was about to put sugar in the cornbread.

“No! You can’t do that!” I shrieked.

“I thought you wanted to learn how to make cornbread,” she replied.

“I do, but I know enough about it to know what you’re doing is so wrong.” I was almost pleading. “My mom would never do this! She used to say that if you put sugar in cornbread, then you’re really just making cake.”

A look of mild disgust came over her face. “Well this is the way my grandmother taught me, and this is what the recipe calls for, and this is what we’re going to do.” Then she scooped a tablespoon in the sugar tub and dusted it over the batter.

I began to feel faint as I stepped back from the counter. I just knew that any minute Paula Deen would come crashing thru our front door and arrest us for impersonating Southerners. I could already see the crime scene tape being strung across our kitchen door. What’s she gonna do next, put mayonnaise in it?

My wife looked up, shook her head, and said, “Enough with the drama, Shakespeare. How many times have you eaten my cornbread?”

“Lots of times,” I replied uncertainly.

“Right. And people love my cornbread, right?”

“Um, well…yeah.”

“Then what are you worried about? It’s just a personal preference, not a crime against humanity.”

“That depends on who you ask,” I replied.

Soon, the batter was poured in the hot cast iron skillet and placed back in the oven. Within 25 minutes we had a perfect pone. The top was a warm oak color, while the bottom was a rich, crisp mahogany crust because of the hot cast iron. In between was light, moist perfection. My Cornbread 101 lesson was now officially complete.

Carol washed her hands and began walking out of the kitchen, saying matter-of-factly, “That’s all there is to it.”

“Hey, wait! What about the pecan pie?” I asked.

She looked over her shoulder and replied, “Joe, don’t push your luck.”

Joe Hobby is a barbecue-loving comedian from Alabama who wrote for Jay Leno for many years. Find more of Joe’s stories on his blog: https://mylifeasahobby.blogspot.com. Follow him on Facebook at Joe Hobby Comedian-Writer.