Skillet Cornbread

Slathered with butter and eaten with barbecue, fried fish, or any style of slow-simmered vegetable; crumbled into bowls of pot likker left over from boiled peas or greens; used to make all types of stuffings—skillet cornbread is one of the backbones of Southern cookery, from the mountains of West Virginia to the bayous of Louisiana. I can recall a time when no dinner was considered respectable without a big skillet of soft cornbread, and even today it’s still a staple at church suppers, at home-style cafés and restaurants, and in even the most elegant dining rooms. I’ve eaten skillet cornbread from one end of the Confederacy to the other, but none (including my own mother’s) can equal this miraculous version using water-ground yellow cornmeal (and no flour!), prepared almost daily by a close friend and transplanted Mississippi native now living in North Carolina. “The secret,” says Ann, “is not just the cornmeal but the quantity of bacon grease and the blazing hot cast-iron skillet.” Of course, finding water-ground cornmeal these days is a challenge, but I must say that batches of this cornbread made with regular yellow cornmeal are nothing to sneeze at.

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups yellow cornmeal (preferably water-ground)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup regular buttermilk
  • ¼ cup bacon grease

Method

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the cornmeal, baking soda, and salt and stir till well blended. Add the eggs and buttermilk and stir with a wooden spoon till well blended and smooth. In a 9- to 10-inch cast-iron skillet, heat the bacon grease, add it to the cornmeal mixture, and stir till well blended. Scrape the batter into the hot skillet, place the skillet in the oven, and bake till the cornbread is golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Turn the cornbread out onto a serving plate or serve directly from the skillet, cutting it into small wedges.

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