Cornbread

Cornbread

Cornbread is a generic name for any number of quick breads (a bread leavened chemically, rather than by yeast) containing cornmeal. As maize (also known as corn) is native to North America, it is not surprising that the various kinds of cornbreads are more prevalent in the New World. However, in Italy, the corn-based mush known as polenta is sometimes fashioned into a fried form resembling cornbread.

History

Native Americans were using ground corn for cooking long before the European explorers arrived in the New World. Cornbread was first discovered by Europeans during the European exploration of North America. Europeans who had to use the local resources for food, fashioned cornmeal into cornbread. Cornbread was popular during the American Civil War because it was very cheap and could be made in many different forms. It could be fashioned into high-rising, fluffy loaves or simply fried for a fast meal.

Types of cornbread

Cornbread is a popular item in soul food enjoyed by many people for its texture and scent. Cornbread can be baked, fried or, rarely, steamed. Steamed cornbreads are mushy, chewier and more akin to cornmeal pudding than what most consider to be traditional cornbread.

Baked cornbread

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.

Corn pone

Corn pone (sometimes referred to as "Indian pone") is a type of cornbread, made of a thick, malleable dough made of cornmeal or hominy grits, shaped by hand and then baked or fried in butter, margarine, lard or bacon grease. Corn pone has been a staple of Southern U.S. cuisine, and has been discussed by many American writers, including Mark Twain. Typically corn pone is formed in two to three inch oval shapes and features a crunchy and/or chewy texture. The term comes from the Virginia Algonquian language.

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.

Hot water cornbread

Cooked on a rangetop, one frying method involves pouring a small amount of liquid batter made with boiling water and self-rising cornmeal (cornmeal with soda or some other chemical leavener added) into a skillet of hot oil, and allowing the crust to turn golden and crunchy while the center of the batter cooks into a crumbly, mushy bread. These small (3-4" diameter) fried breads are soft and very rich. Sometimes, to ensure the consistency of the bread, a small amount of wheat flour is added to the batter. This type of cornbread is often known as "hot water" or "scald meal" cornbread and is unique to the American South.

Jonnycakes

Pouring a batter similar to that of skillet-fried cornbread, but slightly thinner, into hot grease atop a griddle or a skillet produces a pancake-like bread called a jonnycake, johnnycake, johnny cakes, ashcake, battercake, journey cake, mush bread, Shawnee cake, jonakin or jonikin. The origin of the name is unclear, possibly from 'journey cake' as a bread easily prepared by travellers, or as a corruption of 'Shawnee cake', or based on a forgotten Indian word. It has been claimed that the origin of this term is related to the Northern slang for Southern soldiers during the American Civil war, "Johnny Reb," but this claim is inconsistent with the fact that the term was in use during the 18th century. This type of cornbread is prevalent in New England, particularly in Rhode Island, and also in the American Midwest, and the American South.

Hushpuppies

A thicker buttermilk-based batter which is deep-fried rather than pan-fried, forms the hushpuppy, a common accompaniment to fried fish and other seafood in the South. Hushpuppy recipes vary from state to state, some including onion seasoning, chopped onions, beer, or jalapeños are used. Fried properly, the hushpuppy will be moist and yellow or white on the inside, whilst crunchy and medium to dark brown on the outside.

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."

See also

References

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