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Southern comfort in a cast iron skillet

POSTED: March 8, 2017 1:00 a.m.

"I don't like cornbread," my little vegetarian declared the other day.

I was shocked.

Really, truly shocked.

How could anyone - especially someone related to me - not like cornbread?

Since my child has given up meat I have taken to making more vegetable dishes for all of us.

And sometimes, like Granny would have told you, a salad would only satisfy a rabbit.

So I was making him a very a Southern-style veggie plate that had cream corn, slaw, carrots and peas.

With cornbread.

Because as Granny would tell you, you gotta have some kind of bread.

"How can you not like cornbread?" I asked.

He shrugged. "I just don't. I never really did like it."

"You what?"

"I didn't really like it. It's like it can't decide if it is a pie or a cake or something."

I had never thought about that before.

"And you cook it in a cast iron skillet. Those just seem kind of odd to me. Don't they get rust in them?"

If you don't wipe them with oil after you wash them, I explained.

I could see his point.

But how could he not like cornbread?

Now, I wasn't a sweet tea drinker and that's the house wine of the South, but I couldn't understand how my child was not a fan of cornbread.

"Do you like biscuits?" I asked, curious.

"Yeah, I guess."

"Why don't you like cornbread then?"

"I just don't. I don't like the taste, the texture, the way it looks. I have never liked it."

I couldn't make him understand that cornbread was the ultimate Southern comfort food.

As a little girl, cornbread was one of the first things Granny taught me how to make, standing me in a chair at the table as she sifted corn meal into the bowl.

She taught me to how to make cornbread before she did biscuits, telling me cornbread was a bit easier for a 4-year-old to make.

She had me fold the corn meal, egg, and buttermilk together while the butter melted in her big cast iron skillet in the oven.

Granny's strict instructions stated cornbread was always made in a cast iron skillet.

"What about muffins?" I had asked her once.

She looked at me like I had scalded her.

"Never. It's a pone - not muffins."

To this day, I am still not clear on what a pone is but I don't make cornbread muffins.

Granny's cornbread had that crunchy outer crust to it, with the top golden brown. It was a pan of perfection in many ways.

Cornbread and biscuits were made just about every day, but some days, cornbread was easier to make simply because Granny could pour it in the skillet to bake instead of having to pat out her lovely little biscuits.

She served cornbread with soup, stew, greens, peas, beans and sometimes, if it was too hot to cook or she was too tired, Granny would announce cornbread and buttermilk was what everyone was eating for dinner.

When I moved away from home, Granny made sure I had a cast iron skillet.

"You can use it on the stove, in the oven, as a weapon," she said as she handed it to me.

When I was moving into my apartment following my divorce, she gave me a smaller cast iron pan that would make cornbread for one.

Many nights, I made cornbread in that little pan just for me, wishing I was home so Granny could make me something that would make me feel better.

It was the best comfort food, more so than cake and I could make just enough for me - with biscuits, I couldn't make just one.

I always liberally smeared the warm, fresh from the oven cornbread with butter, too, letting it melt down in the crumbs.

Some mornings, I even had leftover cornbread for breakfast.

It's the one thing I missed when I found out I had gluten intolerance several years ago and the one thing I will still eat, pain be darned.

My child was missing out on the best Southern comfort food, at least in my mind.

"It's not comfort food to me," he said, when I told him this. "Comfort food to me is your hot chocolate, the way you make my sandwiches, and how you make popcorn on the stove for us to watch a movie - that's my comfort food, Mama. Not cornbread."

And maybe that's what comfort food is really about.

Maybe it has nothing to do with the food itself, but perhaps it is the memories and the moments we associate with those foods.

And maybe that explains why to me, cornbread in a cast iron skillet is the best comfort food there is.

Sudie Crouch is an award winning humor columnist and author of the novel, "The Dahlman Files: A Tony Dahlman Paranormal Mystery."

 

 

 

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