The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Cornbread and Hush Puppies

Click here for more info.By Susan M. Thigpen © 1999

Online: January, 1999

Editor's Note: I make cornbread from cornmeal ground right here in Wytheville at Reed Creek Mill. I prefer white to yellow cornmeal. Some people use self rising cornmeal and others prefer plain - If you want the plain cornmeal to rise, you will have to add a little baking soda.

Traditional country cornbread isn't light and fluffy, it's heavy and thick. The best way to eat it hot or cold is broken up in a big glass of milk. I prefer buttermilk, others prefer sweet milk.

In the "How to Cook From Scratch" section, we explain the old time way to cook pinto beans. Now, it just isn't fair to tell a person how to cook good beans and not include a recipe for cornbread. Here in the south, we cook cornbread in several different ways. There's skillet bread that's baked in the oven in a black cast iron skillet, there's hush puppies, and there's fried cornbread. Some bake corn muffins and add a little sugar to the cornbread batter and they're as good as any cake you might eat.

Basic Cornbread

2 cups self rising cornmeal
lump of shortening the size of an English walnut. (butter or bacon grease - do not use margarine because it is mostly water)
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk (buttermilk will taste better and will rise better)

First get a bowl with high sides. Then put 2 cups of cornmeal in it and make a depression in the center of the cornmeal. Into this center, put a lump of bacon grease the size of a walnut and one egg. Next add one cup of buttermilk and stir all together, making sure the bacon grease is broken up evenly throughout the batter. (Buttermilk will make the cornbread rise higher and lighter. Pour this into a greased glass (or corning ware) pie plate. Smooth the top of it by dribbling a little milk on top and smoothing with a knife as though you were icing it. Bake at 400 until done in the center, about 20 minutes.

Some people bake cornbread in a cast iron skillet in the oven. If you do this, grease the skillet and preheat it empty. Then pour the batter in the heated skillet. If you use cast iron, you will get a certain amount of your daily iron intake from just cooking in it.

Fried Cornbread

This is a treat served at the famous Mabry Mill, on the Blue Ridge Parkway - the most photographed site in the entire National Park Service. They serve two cornmeal cakes with Southern style barbecue between them. Delicious!

If you use more milk, you can have a thinner batter and pour cornmeal "pancakes" into a heated skillet on a burner on top of the stove. Then cook as you would pancakes, flipping them over when one side is done. The flavor is at its very best if you use bacon drippings for the oil to cook them in. Make them any size you think you can handle. Remember, you will have to turn them over at least once. You will have to keep adding grease from time to time, but be careful not to add too much at a time because the cornmeal will soak it up and be too greasy. With a little practice, you'll get the hang of it.

These corn cakes are great with pinto beans and cabbage. In the era of wood stoves, cornbread could be cooked like this quicker on top of the stove than by trying to raise the heat of the oven high enough to bake bread.

Hush Puppies

Supposedly, hush puppies were invented in the south during the Civil War. They were made by soldiers who threw a few to barking dogs to "Hush the Puppies."

Hush puppies are dropped into hot grease and deep fried. Make their batter thick and pinch off pieces of the batter and roll it in your hands and drop in the hot grease. One side usually wants to stay "up" all the time, so be sure you turn them to get them done all the way through. The grease should be medium hot.

You can experiment with the batter by adding onions or peppers and other flavors. You can also add grated cheese to the cornbread batter, or drop the grated cheese on top of the cornbread the last few minutes it is in the oven, until the cheese melts on top.

You can make a good casserole by frying hamburger with bacon, draining the grease and putting in a casserole dish. Then add a can of drained corn and a can of pinto beans, undrained. Then pour the cornbread batter on top and bake at 350 until the cornbread on top is done. Slice down through the casserole and you have an easy one dish meal. Serve with chow chow relish.

Have you ever heard of Hoe Cakes?

This was cornbread that was baked on an open fire on a flat gardening hoe.

In days gone by, people had large gardens to tend. They raised practically every mouthful of food the family ate, and had big fields of corn and other grains to take after harvest to be ground into meal and flour. You would hear the phrase, "I'm going to the field," and know that from sunup until sundown the entire family would be plowing, planting, weeding or harvesting a crop. Babies would be taken along and put into a homemade play pen (mine was made of tobacco sticks) in whatever shade was available. They would take a big jug of water from their spring or well and they would either take a cold lunch to eat or build a fire and cook something simple. The metal end of a hoe could be placed in the fire until hot and a thick bread batter poured on it to bake.

Camping Cornbread

Try this modern day version the next time you are camping. Take an empty gallon size can with the top cut out of it and punch a hole on the side, under the rim of the end with the bottom still on it. A triangle shaped can opener works great. With tin snips, cut a square hole about two inches wide and two inches high at the open end of the can. The square hole at the bottom and the triangular hole at the top ensure a good draft of air. Remove the paper label from the can. Set this can over a small open fire, with the open end down, and put a little solid shortening on the top. When it is hot, pour your batter on the top of the can and when it is done on one side, turn it over. Each member of the family could have their own little cooker and see who is the best at cooking in this way. Breakfast pancakes are good made this way also.