Sunday, October 9, 2011

Let us break bread together

Bessie Smith could sing about how nobody could bake a jellyroll like her and the Newbeats liked their peanut butter, but for this sometimes Southern woman, there's nothing like cornbread (with or without the sexual innuendo).

Dancing with the devil 'round a fire
(mess your) mama bed for a little more magic
make you wanna run around naked
cause you know it looks good on you
but you ain't never had my corn bread
a little bit heaven and a little bit of uh huh
cut it down the middle open wide and jump right in (Dave Matthews Band).

 Cornbread baked in my 100 year old cast iron skillet. The first cut...

Last Friday, I was a bit a loose ends because the traffic in the city was one huge mess due to Fleet Week and dozens of street closures. I didn't want to paint and I didn't want to write and I'm already exhausted by the work involved by my upcoming  Open Studios(Oct 15-16th). More about that later....

I knew that I was going over to my dear friends Anna and Dave's on Saturday for a pot luck brunch where we would all sit around, discuss the issues of the day, share art and ideas. Plato has nothing on us for dissin' about the soul and the good life.

So, what better way to spend the day than in the kitchen? I had a marathon cooking day, making food for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians. Turkey in cream sauce and Buffalo chili for the carnivores and green beans with tomatoes, Lima bean casserole and carrot soup for the vegetarians. (Recipes on request).

 Wedgewood Stove, circa 1947 or so.

But the hit of the day was my cornbread. I don't think that my recipe is anything special. You can find variations of it all over the internet. But I added a can of corn and I think that brought a touch of tenderness and sweetness to the bread. I also credit my old cast iron skillet with giving the bread the right kind of crust while baking the inside to the right consistency of tender crumby goodness. 
The proof of the pudding is in the eating and I'm glad to say that I didn't have any leftovers to take home. 

I have had that skillet for almost 40 years. It belonged to my grandmother and I brought it down to San Francisco after her death. I remember her making cornbread in that skillet and spoon bread and hush puppies. She had a couple of other pans that I wish I'd taken from the old house, a special pan for corn pone and her old Dutch oven. But I have this and the cast iron stove top grill where she used to grill the salmon that my grandfather caught off the Oregon Coast or the Geoduck that we'd find, digging like crazy on the beach. I remember the clean tang of the salt air, the wind in the pines behind their house. I remember the smells of food, of love, of comfort and safety. My parental units were not the nicest in the world so I am glad that I have these wonderful memories.

Whenever I get out my old skillet, I remember my days of standing at my grandmother's elbow, taking in cooking wisdom and old Southern adages. Sunday dinner after church was best but she would tell me to get out of my "go-to-meetin' clothes" (good clothes) before I stepped foot in the kitchen. She could fuss at my grandfather, telling him that he was "slower than molasses."  She could be cranky, opinionated and she was far from politically liberal, especially on issues of race. She said that I was as stubborn as a mule but I opined that it was something that I learned from her.

What act cements a relationship more, even now, even in our secular society, than sharing a good meal?  It is how we understand that we are in this together: the sharing of food, of life. And so our religious traditions include that shared meal: whether in the form of the formalized Eucharist of Christianity, the offering to the Goddess at the turn of each season, the candy for Ganesha or other Hindu gods or the offerings of food, shared with friends.

We're seeking relationship, with the world, with our spiritual selves, with the circles of community widening out from ourselves. Let us break bread together and give thanks.

1/4 cup oil
2 cups ground yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 cups corn kernels, fresh, thawed, or drained


Preheat the oven to 450°. Pour the vegetable oil into a seasoned skillet and place in the oven. Heat until the oil is very hot; remove the pan from the oven and pour off any excess oil. In a mixing bowl, sift together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Stir in the buttermilk, eggs, and butter, stirring until just mixed. Stir in corn kernels. Pour the batter into the hot skillet and return to the oven. Reduce the temperature to 400°. Bake until golden brown; a toothpick inserted into the center will come out clean. Cool cornbread on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Invert cornbread onto a large plate and cut into wedges.  Skillet cornbread recipe makes about 8 wedges.

Butter is not optional. 


Zoomie said...

Now, that's a mighty fine post with a fond memory embedded in a recipe I'd like to try. Brava!

namastenancy said...

Thank you - coming from a good writer like you, that's high praise.