A Newsletter #10

cornbread, maybe

a percentage of you are absolutely going to LOVE this cornbread.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine texted to ask if I had a good basic cornbread recipe since the one she made was such a bummer (dry). I said I didn’t, but since then have not been able to stop thinking about what a good version of cornbread would be, and how to get there. Could I make one sweet enough, versatile enough, and perfectly textured enough that would please everyone? (I’ll save you the scrolling: NO!) For a few weeks, thinking about this potentially people-pleasing cornbread replaced “is someone mad at me?” as my number one thought before bed.

Similarly to scones, I feel like most cornbread I’ve tried to bake is too dry to be enjoyable (subtle scone shade, you love to see it). Some experiences have been like eating a spoonful of cinnamon. “Oh but it’s great toasted!” Well, maybe I need to manage my expectations, but if it must be eaten right out of the oven or otherwise toasted to be edible, then what are we doing here? I want to enjoy a baked good on my timeline, not on the timeline of the baked good. Unless it’s, like, a soufflé (lol), you should be able to eat it whenever you want. Like ice cream- it’s good right out of the container, asking nothing of us. Ice cream, you’re perfect!

CORNBREAD DISCLAIMER:

I AM FROM LOS ANGELES and will acknowledge I lack emotional connection to what many would consider REAL cornbread. So when I eat cornbread or have attempted to make it myself, I’ve had to judge it like I judge anything else I put into my body: Does this taste good? Do I want to keep eating it?

Many people have cornbread standards, cornbread opinions, cornbread expectations, and cornbread stories. Rich personal histories tie them to cornbread, family recipes and memories help form opinions on what makes the perfect version. Should it have sugar or no sugar? Be cake-y or bread-like? Baked in a cast iron? What if you use bacon fat? Or lard? What about adding cheese? Use white cornmeal or yellow? Should it be spicy? Etc etc etc forevermore. You get it.

Nashville family can’t WAIT to try my cornbread!!!!!!

[For more context, read THIS article on cornbread by Kathleen Purvis (h/t my southern cousin Julia, who is upset to quite upset at the presence of sugar in my cornbread), specifically touching on the racial divide of sugar vs. no sugar and the origins of that debate. She includes interviews with authors Michael Twitty, Toni Tipton-Martin, and Ronni Lundy, it’s an excellent read.]

I value and respect all of these traditions and opinions and stories! I have a cornbread story, too, although it’s not very good.

CORNBREAD STORY:

The cornbread I grew up with came from the Jiffy box and to be honest, I thought it ruled (I still think it rules). My mom made it when she’d make chili (which had meat in it, but also beans) and really no other time. So that’s it, that’s my cornbread story.

Clearly, this does not make me an expert on cornbread or authority on what makes a good one. Fortunately, I’ve got plenty of people in my life who never fail to be honest with me, especially about food. But, personally, I have no expectations aside from, again: Does this taste good? Do I want to keep eating it?

Louisiana woman weighs in.

CORNBREAD STANDARDS:

Lol JK. Of course I have expectations. They are, like all expectations I’m constantly putting upon myself and others, woven from an amalgam of reality and fantasy. Cornbread expectations include but are not limited to:

  • Properly seasoned, which to me, means it has sugar and salt. Not enough sugar for it to be described as sweet, only enough to make the cornmeal *shine* (I tried it without sugar and that style cornbread was not for me).

  • Again, sorry, yes, I think it should have a little sugar. Corn is sweet, cornmeal isn’t. So ideally, I’d like cornbread to be as sweet as corn is, you know? (I use light brown sugar which adds a deeper, more honey’d flavor than plain sugar which can read just “sweet”).

  • Not dry.

  • Crunchy edges, without having to be made in a cast iron because not everyone has one (but if you have a cast iron, that’s great!).

  • Fluffy but not so fluffy someone would mistake it for a cake or a muffin.

  • Crumb-y without being crumbly (despite all the fat and liquid, cornbread really LOVES 2 B DRY AS HELL).

  • It doesn’t have other stuff in it, but if you really wanted to put other stuff into it, would still work as a recipe (But…uh, why do we always have to put stuff into cornbread?).

  • It’s not dry.

  • Is superlative straight from the oven, but still extremely good hours later or even the next day, without toasting or frying in butter (but that would be good, too).

Southern gentleman offers thoughts on the subject.

CORNBREAD RECIPE:

So, call this a cornbread. Or call it something else. Call it whatever you want! This is cornbread TO ME. I know some people will disagree, so happy to rebrand it as a Lightly Sweetened Cornbread or Cornmeal Quickbread or Cornbread, Maybe.

You can find the recipe here (now available in METRIC!), and yeah, it has mayonnaise in it. Because you know what never dries out? Mayonnaise. Ever had a chocolate cake with mayonnaise in it? It’s…great. You can also use sour cream if that offends you less (talking to my dad here).

up close and personal with the cornbread because don’t you want to know what you’re getting yourself into here? photo taken/recipe tested by rebecca firkser.

A FUN NEW THING

FOR PAID SUBSCRIBERS: Tomorrow (Friday 8/28), I’ll be hosting a Q+A from 11-12. Ask me about cornbread, tell me about your cornbread, trade cornbread stories with each other. It’ll be great. Only THEN will you be able to truly drag me in person for not insisting this cornbread be made in a cast iron. Paid subscribers will get a link, so just pop on over, see you there!

QUARANTINE ACTIVITIES

Decide you’re going to do some *natural dye* this weekend and realize, lol no you’re not, and just use Rit. Start diversifying your media intake by supporting independent writers, photographers, editors, cooks and makers by subscribing to their independent publications, newsletters and Patreons (like you’re doing here— THANK YOU!). If you’re seeking deeper dives into food culture and want to expand beyond recipes, I’ve really been enjoying/learning an incredible amount from Whetstone Magazine. Issue No.6 is available for pre-order now (in digital / print and digital+print); for more instant gratification, there’s W Journal. Tell yourself you’re never logging on to Twitter again. Log onto Twitter, feel bad. Repeat several times a day. Buy a shitty karaoke microphone because, goddamnit, you need karaoke. Read this heartbreakingly well-written article on what ABOLISH THE POLICE truly means, by Josie Duffy Rice in this month’s gorgeous Vanity Fair. Register to vote, make a voting plan, make sure you vote, there are ten Tuesdays left before we VOTEEEEE.


As a reminder, this newsletter is free with the *option* to subscribe. Paid subscribers get additional recipes, Q+A’s, discussion threads, and more to come. You can upgrade below.
For August, proceeds will go to La Cocina, an SF-based non-profit that works to solve problems of equity in business ownership for women, immigrants, and people of color. Learn more about them here, purchase their beautiful cookbook full of amazing stories and recipes here
Past organizations to put on your radar: The Okra Project / Food Issues Group