Yesterday was Al’s birthday, so I made him one of his favorite dinners—red beans and rice. That’s a good Friday meal, just in case there are any side effects from the beans. I’m the one who likes to go out for my birthday and be sung to so I can be the center of attention. Al prefers a dinner at home with no one forcing him into the spotlight.
It had been a while since I had made red beans and rice, so I was looking forward to the meal almost as much as Al. Especially, the cornbread I make to go with it. I love cornbread. And it reminds me of one of my favorite story to tell on Al.
When we were “seriously” dating and had moved in together, I would make cornbread from a packet of buttermilk cornbread mix in a square baking pan. Al said it was OK, but it wasn’t as good as his Granny’s. His Granny made the best cornbread ever. Oh, his Granny’s cornbread was so much better. So, when it was time to meet Granny, I knew what I was going to ask her first.
Let me pause here to tell you about Granny. In her 70s, when I met her, she was about 5’ 4” and a little hunched over. Her hair was snow white and her skin had the dark, leathery look that came with her American Indian heritage. She dipped Dental Snuff (don’t ask—it’s just nasty) and never put her teeth in, but could still eat just about anything. Actually, she did put her teeth in once, at our wedding, and she scared the grandkids because they had never seen her with teeth before. As far as I know, she never put them in again. She always had an amazing garden and the best part of eating at her place was the way she’d keep bringing out fresh veggies from the refrigerator, “You want some tomatoes? How about onions, pepper, cucumbers . . .” She made gorgeous quilts out of whatever material she had. She cussed like a sailor. And she intimidated the hell out of me.
So, we’re visiting his family, and I say, “Granny, Al says you make the best cornbread. You’ll have to show me how you make it.”
“It’s real easy,” she said, opening the refrigerator and bringing out a packet, “I just use this buttermilk cornbread mix.” It was the exact thing I was using! Al had the common sense not to reply.
However, she did make it differently because she made hers in an iron skilled. THE iron skillet, the one used only for cornbread. She heated up the skillet with some fat in it, usually bacon fat kept in a tin on the stove top. Once it was hot, she sprinkled some cornmeal on the bottom, then poured in the cornbread mixture, and baked it. It did taste better. It was the best cornbread I had ever had. And that’s the way I make cornbread today. Oh, I don’t use bacon fat, but I do put a chunk of unsalted butter in there while the pan is heating up. And I sprinkle some of the mix in the bottom of the skillet because it gives a nice crust to the bread and helps it to come out easier. I can’t find that particular mix anymore, so I use Martha White’s self-rising cornbread mix, but the key is that iron skillet.
All I need now is a big glass of milk and some butter to spread on that heaping slice of hot cornbread.