It seems a simple enough concoction, cornbread. A few basic ingredients, a fairly standard quick bread. But dig a little deeper, as with so many things, and a shifting landscape reveals itself. Cornbread, like other cultural touchstones, stands for more than a simple snack. Depending on the region, it is either sweet or savory, may or may not contain white flour, and is to be eaten with or without additions such as fresh or creamed corn, jalapeños or other diced vegetables and cheese.
Though cornmeal originated in South America, like the corn plant itself, it spread through trade and commerce throughout the land, and has become an iconic food of the South and West, particularly. In the Southern regions of the country, cornbread is made without the addition of sugar or white flour, whereas in the west, it often contains these ingredients. Westerners, too, are also more likely to add a little diced jalapeño or other additions, as noted above.
We like to cook ours in a cast iron skillet, in true cowboy style. Aside from harkening back to a shared cultural affinity for wide open spaces, smoky campfires, and a restless spirit of adventure, a cast iron pan also makes a darn fine culinary tool. The heavy bottom retains heat and distributes it evenly, making for a fine, crisp crust. It adds a little bit of old western flair to the dinner table. And a cast-iron pan, properly seasoned, rivals even the most high-tech of non-stick skillets in the non-sticking department.
The cornmeal in this recipe is ground coarsely, and can be quite toothsome. Soaking the cornmeal in buttermilk for a few hours, or even overnight, tenderizes the large grains of cornmeal, making the bread more moist and tender. This step is optional, however, and the bread is still delicious without the soaking step.
This recipe is for a 9" Cast Iron Skillet
Place the butter inside a 9” cast iron skillet and put into the oven to preheat. This will melt the butter for your recipe and season the pan, all at once.
Careful of that hot skillet!
Put the skillet in the center of the oven and bake until the center is firm, or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
This cornbread is awesome served with chili, or with fresh butter and jam. It also makes excellent down-home strawberry shortcake; cover with sliced berries and drizzle the whole thing over with honeyed creme fraíche. You may want seconds.