Southern Cornbread

If you stop by La’Wan’s Soul Food Restaurant in south Charlotte for collards and macaroni & cheese, there’s something important on your plate.

It’s a small cornbread muffin. Soft and tender, almost cake-like, with a bit of chewiness to the crust and a flavor that’s just a little sweet.

Now drive over to Lupie’s Cafe on Monroe Road and you’ll get a big square of cornbread, 3 inches across, white with a yellow tinge. Firm, almost coarse, with a crisp top.

Sweet? Not a bit. It’s defiantly not sweet.

La’Wan’s corn muffin and Lupie’s cornbread are humble things. But they represent something deeper: The dividing line between black Southerners and white ones. As examples of one of the defining staples of Southern food, they also are a marker of food history that speaks volumes about origins and identity, about family and what we hold dear.

It also raises a question: So many Southern food traditions are shared by both races. Most Southerners, black and white, revere fried chicken, pursue pork barbecue and exalt their grandmothers’ garden vegetables. So why is there such a fundamental difference between two styles of one basic bread?

Culinary historians have debated this one for years: Did the descendants of slave cooks who were exposed to British baking styles come to value cornbread that was lighter and softer? Did the children of farm-based white Southerners get used to unsweetened cornbread that tasted more emphatically like corn? Whatever caused it, the line is drawn.

“You have to have sugar in your tea and your cornbread,” says La’Wan Adams, the owner of La’Wan’s. “People will ask, ‘Is it like Jiffy? Is it like cake?’”

If you are white, you likely fall into the camp of Lupie Duran, the retired owner of Lupie’s.

“To me, sweet cornbread is like Jiffy mix. And that’s not the Southern kind. No sugar. It’s not my thing.”
Continued…
My friend in SC sent me this interesting article on the differences between “White” and “Black” cornbread down that way.

As an almost 70 y.o. white person from the South, I consider ‘sweet’ cornbread “Yankee” food. Nuf said :slight_smile:

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The Cunningham boy in To Kill a Mockingbird was mocked for drowning his cornbread in syrup. The implication, it seems to me, is that his poor white farming family couldn’t afford syrup, but would have liked sweeter foods if they’d been within their budget. Surely that scene reflected what Harper Lee observed during her Mississippi childhood.

Well, it was within our budget but yuck :slight_smile:

Im a yankee-born, southron-bred girl with lots and lots of friends whose southern roots stretch for generations.

It’s most definitely a north-south thing, as Cath said.

I tend to waffle, depending on what I’m eating it with.

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65-yo yankee raised in new jersey, living in boston for 40+ years, though i did spend a year in south carolina.

i grew up loving the sweet, cakey corn muffins, especially when split, buttered then grilled. but, in recent years, i’ve been making the real southern stuff – no flour, no sugar, baked in heated cast iron – and there’s no going back. the corn flavor is more pronounced, and the texture moist, not crumbly.

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I have Mother’s cornstick pan:

Lots of crunchies!

I am a southern gal. My husband’s southern roots run deep.

We all love sweet cornbread. He grew up with sweet cornbread. So did I. Sweet cast iron skillet cornbread. The sugar makes the crust.

I am kinda like Sunshine depending on what I am eating it with. When I make cornbread stuffing for poultry, I don’t use any sugar at all. When I make it for beans, I make it regular sweet, when I make greens I tend to bump the sugar down. But other than stuffing, it has to have sugar.

I also make it a bit denser when I make greens. Because I love to throw a chunk of cornbread into the likker to soak up all the goodness.

For me the crust comes from putting bacon drippings into the cast iron cornstick pan and placing that in the oven until melted and sizzling. Then pour in the batter.

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So does anyone ever eat enhanced cornbread? We occasionally make cast iron skillet cornbread with some combination of frozen corn kernels, fresh chopped jalapeno, shredded cheese and/or pan sausage.

I start with two pkgs of Gladiola Mexican Style Cornbread mix cause my mama said it’s the best. :wink:

I also usually add a little extra baking powder to the mix.

Let’s eat!

I’ve never made it but that sounds terrific.

I make it the same way! Except for the sugar part, of course :blush:

I’m a fan of cornbread with added corn kernels and some chopped green onions.

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“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold