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Patch’s Weekend Project: Our DIY Dude Puts Your Cast-Iron Cornbread Recipes to the Test!

Patch readers put restored cast-iron pan to work with wonderful recipes!

By JASON CARPENTER

After last week’s post, I got quite a bit of feedback on how to season a cast iron pan. In my article, I used olive oil, but there are a lot of old school cooks like Steven and Petey who prefer to use bacon fat. I’m going to give it a try. I want to hear more ideas from you about what makes a perfectly seasoned pan—and how to care for the pan once you’ve seasoned it.

You also came up with some innovative ways to restore cast iron cookware. In fact, Paul Silansky wrote his own article about cast iron restoration, which included some impressive techniques using an electric wire brush and steel wool. Please, keep these ideas coming! You never know where my column might lead, and you never know when you might find your name in it.

This week’s column was inspired by your comments.

Cast Iron Cornbread

Last week, I shared with you my experience restoring some old crusty cast iron cookware, using a recipe from the internet. Well, Patch readers came in with all kinds of helpful advice, including one reader’s favorite recipe: cast-iron cornbread. Since I’m always up for a tasty loaf, I gave it a try.

See, a freshly restored cast iron skillet is like a hammer without a nail; a blank canvas begging for paint. And what better way to put my new skillet to use than to use one of your suggestions? Keep in mind, I’m a do-it-yourself kind of guy, but baking doesn’t usually make it onto my weekend to-do list. So, I took my new skillet, and relied on Jane Bellomy’s cornbread wisdom. Here’s how it all shook out.
First off, I must admit; I cheated just a little. I had my friend Morgan oversee my cornbread creation so that I didn’t embarrass myself too much. He’s a cook at a local restaurant in town. Since I had other DIY projects to write about  I was on a tight deadline. But how hard can cornbread be?

I texted Morgan the ingredients list so he could pick them up on the way over:

  • 1 cup corn meal
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tbsp. oil
  • 1 egg 

According to Jane Bellomy, all I needed to do was:

“Whisk all together thoroughly and pour into skillet which has couple tbsp. oil distributed on bottom of pan; bake 20 min. @ 400 degrees.”

So, that’s exactly what I did. In a glass bowl, I mixed the dry ingredients together, then put in the wet ingredients. Only problem was, I don’t know the difference between using liquid buttermilk and the powdered stuff! After all, we’re going to bake this, right?

I did a quick internet search and realized I’d probably be skewered for substituting real buttermilk for the powdered stuff. But I had a deadline...no time for another trip to town!

So, on I went, mixing everything together. I preheated the oven at 400F and added a tbsp. of olive oil to the bottom of the pan.

I poured the mixture into the pan, popped it into the oven and envisioned a nice wedge of piping hot cornbread.

What I did NOT realize, however, was that I should have pre-heated the skillet too. See, Southerners really perfected the art of cast iron cornbread. In the South they prefer to preheat the pan with bacon grease, so the piping hot grease gives the bread a beautifully crispy crust all the way around. Oh, and they shun the sugar and sweeteners us Yankees like to put in our cornbread up North. Cornbread was originally a Native American food that became very popular during the Civil War because it was cheap, easy to make, and corn was abundant.

With 20 minutes to kill, Morgan and I swapped cornbread stories. Truth is, the best cornbread I ever ate was probably a terrible store-bought, day old loaf. But at the time, it didn’t matter.

See, in 2011, I underwent what doctors call a clinical trial Depleted T-Cell Alogenaic Stem Cell Transplant. In English, this means, I had a bone marrow transplant that controlled how many T-cells I received from my donor in an effort to treat my multiple myeloma (aka bone marrow cancer).

Believe it or not, I was required to be in isolation in my apartment for ONE YEAR—no baseball games, no crowds, no restaurants, no raw food, no uncooked veggies, no salads. I could only be around 3 people at a time because my immune system was so fragile that the tiniest of colds could kill me.

For months, I couldn’t hold anything down and I lost nearly 60 lbs. It was not fun. But I remember one day my mother coming into my apartment with an armful of my favorite breakfast items: Grits, bacon, eggs and cornbread.

And let me tell you, using that cornbread to scoop up some buttery grits and egg was heaven. For a minute, I felt normal. And my mother, who took care of me for 8 months of recovery, didn’t feel so helpless for once. Thanks, in part, to cornbread.

BIZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!

The timer hit 20 minutes and it was time to go from fantasizing about cornbread to eating some. I forgot to mention that I added a little Massachusetts flair to my cornbread—I popped in a ¼ cup of cranberries to the mix. I figured it would add a nice sweet/tart taste to the loaf.

Success!! I busted out the pizza cutter and sliced off a wedge of the cornbread. Delicious! Even my cranberry addition worked well and so Morgan and I enjoyed my first ever cast iron cornbread creation.

Thank you, Patch readers!

Joy White June 08, 2014 at 02:07 PM
Unsweetened cornbread is better. Glad you discovered cast iron. I have a set of cooking irons and introduced the dutch oven to my daughter's Girl Scout troop (dump cakes to peak their interest while camping). I cook and bake in my irons and have restored many rusted irons for friends. Hey, where does your mom get her grits? I have discovered grits at Denney's as part of their Grand Slam. Grew up as an Army brat at Ft Benning Georgia. Do enjoy my over-easy fried eggs over grits with a bit of butter on top.
Gretchen Robinson June 08, 2014 at 11:37 PM
Cook's Country on PBS (cooking program) adds the cornmeal to the liquid ingredients so that it softens. Increases the corn taste and makes it less crumbly. Thanks for a great article.
Logansdad June 09, 2014 at 04:55 PM
What size pan did you use?
amiller June 10, 2014 at 10:27 AM
Love my mom's cornbread and my friend Mary Ruth's but my cheater way to easy but fantastic cornbread is Jiffy mix
Mary Neher June 11, 2014 at 01:01 PM
My mother was from Tennessee and always made cornbread from scratch in a cast iron skillet, as for the recipe, I just put one on my blog, it's the closest thing to her recipe, you can see it here! http://americancottageantiques.blogspot.com/2014/04/white-trash-cooking.html

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