Cornbread – That All American Comfort Food

Photo WG2 smallHi!  Winnie Griggs here.  I recently wrote a scene where my heroine baked a cornbread for the hero and I thought I’d look into the history of this country kitchen staple.

Here are some of the things I discovered.

Cornbread had its origins right here in America.  Native Americans cooked with ground corn long before the first European settlers arrived here.  When the white settlers DID arrive, they were dependent on local resources and learned how to adapt and substitute cornmeal for the wheat flour in much of their bread making.

Cornbread easy to prepare and resulted in a dense and flat cake.  This made it not only easy to transport over long distances but also to remain edible over long periods of time – the perfect food product for these adventurous settlers.

Although cornbread was a staple in most early American kitchen, it seems very few cookbooks from the first half of the nineteenth century provided instructions for how to cook it.  This was likely because it was perceived that there was no need.  This was a dish most young girl’s learned to cook early on at her mother’s side so there would be no need for them to refer to a recipe.  And it was also true that each family had their own twist they put on the basic recipe so a generic one in a cookbook would be ignored.

During the Civil War, cornbread enjoyed another major spike in popularity.  Unlike other grains, corn was plentiful and cheap in all regions of the country, and meals that included cornmeal were easy to make and filling for the diners.

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Because there were so many varieties of corn, even in the early years of our country, the corn itself varied by region.  This led to regional differences in the cornmeal and thus the cornbread.  This difference manifested itself in flavor, texture and even color.  The southwest areas had a blue corn, the south a white and the north a yellow.  There were also many regional variations in the way cooks approached the preparation.

Today there are numerous variations on the simple cornbread recipe, many of them regional.  In Texas, the favorite version seems to be a fluffy cornbread with kernels of corn and cheese and often includes jalapeños.
In the deep south, you’ll find an unsweetened, skillet cornbread that has a crispy, crunchy crust.
If you’re a New Englander, then the most familiar version to you is the Vermont or Boston brown bread which has a moister texture and contains, among other things, raisins and either maple syrup or molasses.
I’m sure there are other regional favorites as well.

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As for myself, I grew up thinking of cornbread as a comfort food.  My mom made the skillet version with the crunchy crust.  Many nights we would have warm cornbread crumbled up in a bowl of milk for supper.  Or as a side dish slathered in butter or mashed with a serving of bacon-seasoned black-eyed peas.  My grandmother made a sweet, almost cake-like cornbread that could be substituted for dessert.

Later, after I married and moved ‘up north’ to north Louisiana, my mother-in-law introduced me to cornbread dressing.  And once I tasted jalapeño cornbread I knew I’d found a new favorite.  It’s great with soup, gumbo, stew or just on it’s own.

So what about you? Do you have a favorite version?  And do you cook yours from scratch or use a packaged mix?

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Winnie Griggs is the author of Historical (and occasionally Contemporary) romances that focus on Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination.
Three of Winnie’s books have been nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, and one of those nominations resulted in a win.
Winnie loves to hear from readers. You can connect with her on facebook at www.facebook.com/WinnieGriggs.Author or email her at winnie@winniegriggs.com.

35 thoughts on “Cornbread – That All American Comfort Food”

  1. I love cornbread and make it all the time. I have made it from scratch but have become lazy and use the Jiffy box of cornbread now. I really like it sweetened even though one of my dear friends from northern Louisiana feels it is a sin to put sugar into a cornbread batter. 🙂 And, yes, it is wonderful with a bowl of homemade soup.

  2. Love cornbread. I have mostly made it from scratch and also like it a little sweetened. I have used a mix but wasn’t as fond of it. Cornmeal is the main ingredient in the coating we use on our fresh caught fish.

  3. Hi Paisley (LOVE that name!) There’s nothing wrong with Jiffy – I’ve been known to use it myself a time or two (or three). Besides soup, it’s also REALLY good with chili

  4. Hi Connie J. My mom also used cornmeal to fry fish – it’s my favorite way to eat it, especially catfish! I haven’t had that in quite some time and now you have my mouth watering for some 🙂

  5. Hello Winnie. I love cornbread. Grew up on it. We were a large family with little money. Lots of times we had cornbread and milk for our night meal. I still love it . I also love it with Pinto beans or black-eyed peas. And, you can’t beat putting it in good hot stew, or chili. I learned to cook from my mother. And learned a dab of this and dash of that. So my daughters said please measure and tell them how much to use. I use to use the oblong cake pans, but found it turns out much neater and great looking when cooked in an iron skillet. Nice height and brown. I don’t cook much anymore so usually use a box of Jiffy Mix. It’s great.
    Maxie

  6. I loved cornbread before I found out that I was reacting to the corn. We always made it from scratch, even starting with having to grind our own cornmeal and flour.

  7. Growing up, mom made cornbread from the Jiffy mix, and then we ate it hot with butter and honey. Thanks for bringing back the memories with your research and article.

  8. Great post, Winnie. I love, love, love cornbread. But I’ve found I prefer a bit of sugar and a more cake-y consistency. Jiffy Mix is one of the best recipes…seriously. 😉

  9. I grew up on cornbread but never make it now. Hmm, I wonder if it’s because I got so sick of it? 🙂 It’s good stuff – especially with butter and honey drizzled over it. That is how we knew to eat it.

  10. Winnie, I love cornbread!! I put in almost all my stories. It’s so versatile. I sometimes crumble it in a bowl or cup and pour milk over it. Sometimes I heat it and put butter and pour syrup over it. That is a very good dessert!! Gravy is also good to put over it. And a hot piece right out of the oven is good just like it is with nothing. But my favorite thing to do with it is eat it with a bowl of red beans. Nothing better in the world. You’ve made me hungry. Gotta go make some.

  11. I shouldn’t even admit this is a field of cooks but I always use the Jiffy mix. I’ve tried making it from scratch but I’ve never found a recipe I liked as well as the Jiffy.

    And I like it very very well.
    I love cornbread muffins at restaurants.

    My sister mixed a couple of boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix with one box of Jiffy white cake mix. She said the restaurants (she’s worked in a lot of restaurants) all make their cornbread recipes this way, the sweetness and fluffiness of the cake mix is a big secret.
    My trouble with that is…I just don’t ever need THAT MUCH.

  12. We have honey bees, a local guy we call ‘The Bee Man’ tends them and always leaves us a big supply of honey. So we love cornbread slathered in honey and butter.
    We don’t have it much though. NOT on any diet.

  13. Maxie, sounds like your history with and love for cornbread matches my own!

    Faith, oh that must be awful to have a corn alergy – it’s in so many of our foods these days.

  14. Janine, nothing wrong with using a package – some of them create quite tasty cornbreads.

    Linda – I’ve never had it with honey, it wasn’t something mom kept around when I was growing up so I never had the opportunity. But we did slather lots of butter on it when we weren’t eating it with something else

  15. Hi Renee, I’m a big fan of Jiffy mix as well, always have a box in the pantry. It’s what I use when I’m making a cornbread casserole of what kind or another.

    Susan p. – Hi! Sounds like several of you like it with honey. I’ll have to give that a try next time I fix cornbread!

  16. I’ve used the the mix you get at the store. You can add to it if you want to but in Ky I’ve noticed it made with corn with a creamy crumbly flavor. Taste good.

  17. I pretty much make mine from scratch. They like it fried here instead of baked. I do love cornbread. I know fried is not good for you but I use nonstick fry pan and very little oil. The mix is not as good and its hard to find just regular cornmeal that is not a mix.

  18. Hi Linda – Sounds like you’re a real fan 🙂 Oh and I agree on the red beans, though I have to say my favorite is chili

    Mary, again, nothing wrong with Jiffy mix – it makes absolutely yummy cornbread! Your sister’s version sounds interesting, but like you that would make much too much for me. I wonder if you can combine the two mixes and just use a portion of it, saving the rest for another time?? Oh, and cool about having such a close source of honey. I use a lot of it in my tea so I try to have botles of it on hand at all time

  19. I like cornbread very slightly sweet. And no buttermilk! That would egg bread, of course. I also like ‘hot water bread’, otherwise known as ‘dog bread’ or ‘corn pone.’ I suspect the early cornbread and travel bread was that. Yellow meal for egg bread. White for hot water bread.

  20. Quilt Lady, sounds like you’re a real cornbread purest. I’ve had it fried before and it’s quite tasty – but then, aren’t most fried foods:)

    Hi Patti. I’ve heard of hot water bread but don’t know that I’ve ever eaten it. Will have to find me a good recipe…

  21. I love cornbread. I have made it from scratch but mostly I just use a packaged mix. I have grown up with cornbread dressing, cornbread and milk and plain ole cornbread with beans and peas. Cornbread, Yum!

  22. Hi Melanie. I wasn’t introduced to cornbread dressing until my then future husband took me home to meet his folks. I grew up in South Louisiana so the dressing we had with our turkey was of the rice and oyster variety. And while my momma’s dressing is still my favorite, I must admit to a fondness for cornbread dressing as well

  23. Oh Winnie, my mouth is watering right now….my fingers dripping with imaginary butter. Yum. Ours always has kernel corn and jalapenos in it, but a steakhouse we go to sometimes has cornbead with apple butter. Oh, that’s good too. Thanks for this wonderful post!! xoxo

  24. I learned to make cornbread in the mountains for my cowboys. They ate it however I cooked it. Didn’t matter to them if it was plain or sweet. We always had beans with whatever else we had and cornbread or biscuits. Later on I put the cornbread into muffin tins with paper to hold them. This way they could take some in their lunches and it wouldn’t crumble all over. I also used cornmeal to fry fish. Corn meal with a handful of flour and seasoning and your good to go.
    That is how I learned to cook. a handful of this and a dash of that, etc.
    The only time I use a package is when I make corn fritters and I use the Jiffy box of cornbread mix. It seems to taste better than mine.

  25. I love cornbread and love to make it. I do use a mix…..it is “cotton pickin”. Comes in a packet…not a box. I add a tablespoon of sour cream to my cornbread……makes it so light and fluffy!! lol

  26. Hi Tanya! I LOVE Mexican cornbread. Could eat a big ole slab of it tight now with my soup.

    Jackie, I’ve never heard of that brand, will definitely be looking it up. And adding sour cream – be still my heart!

  27. HI Winnie – I make Corn Souffle, with cheese and sour cream and cream of corn, Jiffy corn mix. My family loves it. If it’s corny, they’ll eat it. Love corn anything myself.

  28. I usually make mine from scratch. I like the version with kernel corn and cheese in it, though I usually make plain cornbread. Our family loves New England Brown Bread, but I never knew it was a version of cornbread. I’ve not made it, we always get the canned variety. I’ll have to check the ingredients.

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