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Grandma used to make the best fried cornbread in the whole world. Some may call them hoe-cakes, but she just called it cornbread. It wasn’t until I was in graduate school that I asked Grandma for the recipe. Well, there isn’t really a formal recipe. You just have to learn how to do it correctly. She told me how she did it, but it took me several attempts before I got it right. We used to eat it with almost every meal at her house when Mama took us to visit her and Grandpa in North Carolina. Since we moved onto our farm here in Mississippi, everyone we’ve entertained has eaten and enjoyed Grandma’s cornbread. You might enjoy it as well.
You have to start with a good cast iron skillet, preferably one that’s good and seasoned. You need to pour vegetable oil in the skillet until it’s sitting in there about half an inch high. Turn your heat on medium or a little higher, but not high. This cornbread will cook to quick if your heat is too high. Medium should do fine for most stoves.
While the oil is heating up, get your cornbread ready. (The oil needs to heat up for about 10 minutes. If it’s not hot enough, the cornbread will be soggy and stick to the bottom of the skillet.) I’ve never used a measuring cup for the cornbread, but you need four simple ingredients: white cornmeal (preferably from a good mill in the South), water, salt, and pepper. Do not use milk or eggs. It will ruin the recipe. Pour your cornmeal in a bowl, about 2 cups I would say. Sprinkle about a teaspoon of salt in the bowl, and a healthy dose of pepper. Just use your discretion. Take and put your water in the bowl, a little at a time, until the mixture is about the same consistency of a pancake mix, maybe a little thicker. Here’s where the art comes in. If your mixture is too thick or thin, it will not turn out perfectly. You want the cornbread mix to be thin enough to spread out in the pan, but thick enough to stop spreading out in the pan when the mixture reaches a size of about 3 inches wide.
Once the mixture reaches a consistency you think appropriate, take a tablespoon and gently pour a dollop of cornmeal in the pan. The cornmeal will spread out by itself, don’t spread it around. Just drop the dollop and leave it alone. You should be able to place three dollops in your pan easily, but no more. Let the cornmeal fry until it start to float a bit, maybe 3-5 minutes. Turn it over, let it fry another 2-3 minutes or until it floats a little, lift it, place it on a plate lined with paper towels, then serve hot. Just keep frying until the batter is gone. I like it with butter beans, collards, beef roast, or just about anything really.
Most people have heirlooms to help remember their loved ones by. I have Grandma’s cornbread, a tasteful legacy that never grows old.
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