Guest post: When tacky is good

My friend Kitty is a great cook and wonderful writer. When she asked about guest blogging, I (was very surprised and) jumped at the opportunity.

I'm on vacation, uploading this piece from beautiful Northern California, and hope to write again in about a week. With any luck, I'll have fun vacation photos and stories to share. So far, so good. Better than good, actually — this holiday is close to perfect.

Until I'm home and have time to write, you should make you some cornbread.

- Lynn

When Tacky is Good
by Kitty

Like many, my childhood memories are often associated with food.  Oh, sure, there was the time that the dog and a water moccasin had a falling out (snake won, as did the vet who billed us for the puppy paw repair), the day my father and brother unveiled the swing they had built for me, and dancing in the sprinklers on a hot day.  But those pale in comparison to the rich and vivid culinary memories.

My grandmother was a great cook.  Wait — let me amend that, she was a great Southern cook.  She kept a vat of hardened bacon grease in her Frigidaire, had coconut and caramel layer cakes at the ready 24/7, and wielded some hefty power from her 5’ frame when there was a stove and a cast iron pan involved.  And it is from that cast iron pan that she made her greatest creation — good, plain, simple cornbread.

This is not the cornbread you find at Whole Foods.  It is not sweet, fluffy or cake-like.  This is not the cornbread you find in novelty bread baskets at upscale retro-Southern restaurants.  This is a very plain concoction that most resembles corn tack — toothsome, crunchy and meant to be consumed that day.

For this particular recipe, the quality of the ingredients is equal in importance to the required cookware.  I usually accompany this wonderful treat with another Southern staple — the vegetable plate.  Fresh sliced tomatoes, fried okra, cucumber and onion salad and, these days, pickled beets.

Miss Effie’s Cornbread
Required cookware:  a well-seasoned cast iron skillet

1 1/2 cups high quality, stone-ground corn meal (I’ve been using Pollard)
1 1/2 cups water
canola oil

  1. Pour canola oil  into the cast iron skillet to coat, about 2 tablespoons.
  2. Place skillet in oven, and preheat oven and skillet to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  3. While oven is heating, combine water, salt and cornmeal.  You’re going for a runny consistency.  Remember when you made moats around sand castles?  That’s what you’re going for. 
  4. After 15 minutes, remove pan from the oven, and pour in the cornmeal batter. The oil in the pan will spatter a bit, and begin to cover the top of the batter  — that's good. The mixture should only be about 1/2 inch thick in the pan.
  5. Cook at 475 degrees Fahrenheit for 25-30 minutes, until you see cracks in the surface.
  6. Remove from oven,  turn out onto a cutting board, and serve with plenty of butter (or to be all nouvelle Southern, honey butter!)