Cornbread is a common bread in United States cuisine, particularly associated with the South and Southwest, as well as being a traditional staple for populations where wheat bread was prohibitively expensive. In some parts of the South it is crumbled into a glass of cold buttermilk and eaten with a spoon, and it is also widely eaten with barbecue and chili con carne. In rural areas of Virginia in the mid 20th century cornbread, accompanied by pinto beans (often called soup beans in this context) or honey, was a common lunch for poor children. It is still a common side dish, often served with homemade butter, chunks of onion or scallions. Cornbread crumbs are also used in some poultry stuffings; cornbread stuffing is particularly associated with Thanksgiving turkeys and is one of several stuffings in Paul Prudhomme's seminal turducken recipe.
In the United States, Northern and Southern corn bread are different because they generally use different types of corn meal and baking techniques. Northern cooks tend to use yellow corn meal and Southern aficionados generally prefer white. They also prefer different flavorings of cornbread, with the North having a preference for sweetness and adding sugar or molasses, while saltier tastes prevail in the South, and thus favor the addition of frying the bread with such additions as cracklins. In Vermont, ground nutmeg is often added, and day-old "Johnny cake" is crumbled and served with cold milk similar to cold cereal. In Texas, the Mexican influence has spawned a hearty cornbread made with fresh or creamed corn kernels, jalapeño peppers and topped with shredded cheese.
Skillet-baked cornbread (often simply called skillet bread or hoecake depending on the container it's cooked in) is a traditional staple of rural cuisine in the United States, especially in the Southern United States which involves heating bacon drippings, lard or other oil in a heavy, well-seasoned cast iron skillet in an oven, and then pouring a batter made from cornmeal, egg and buttermilk directly into the hot grease. The mixture is returned to the oven to bake into a large, crumbly and sometimes very moist cake with a crunchy crust. This bread will tend to be dense, meant more as an accompaniment than as a bread meant to stand on its own. In addition to the skillet method, such cornbread can also be made in sticks, muffins or loaves.
A slightly different variety, cooked in a simple baking dish, is associated with northern US cuisine; it tends to be sweeter and lighter than southern-style cornbread; the batter for northern-style cornbread is very similar to and sometimes interchangeable with that of a corn muffin. A typical contemporary northern U.S. cornbread (referred to in the South as "Yankee Cornbread") recipe contains half wheat flour, half cornmeal, milk or buttermilk, eggs, leavening agent, salt, and usually sugar, resulting in a bread that is somewhat lighter and sweeter than its more traditional southern counterpart. In the border states and parts of the Upper South, a cross between the two traditions is known as "light cornbread."
Unlike fried types of cornbread, baked cornbread is a quick bread that is dependent on an egg-based protein matrix for its structure (though the addition of wheat flour adds gluten to increase its cohesiveness). The baking process gelatinizes the starch in the cornmeal, but still often leaves some hard starch to give the finished product a distinctive sandiness not typical of breads made from other grains.
The term "corn pone" is sometimes used as a noun to refer to one who possesses certain rural, unsophisticated peculiarities ("he's a corn pone"), or as an adjective to describe particular rural, folksy or "hick" characteristics (e.g., "corn pone" humor). The term is sometimes intended as a pejorative, often directed at persons from rural areas of the southern and midwestern U.S.
The name is derived from the generally accepted story that, "in the old days" (probably the antebellum South), cooks would fry up leftover morsels of dough while cooking and toss them to the dogs in order to stall the pooches' begging, hence "Hush, puppy."