My mother was born in the Mississippi Delta, but she moved to New Orleans at 17 to attend Xavier University. She quickly became a New Orleanian in speech, mannerisms and cooking. Consequently, our family ate rice most days of the week rather than cornbread, that ubiquitous staple of the South.
When we visited my mother’s family, however, cornbread was the star of the show and rice seemed more like a strange cousin visiting from a strange place. Kind of like me, not to put too fine a point on it. Without rice to anchor my meals, I felt like I was in a whole ‘nother country. And I was, really.
As a kid I disparaged cornbread as “country” food. Kun-tree. I was an eight-year-old refined sophisticate from New Orleans, thank you very much. Rice was “city”, like me. Never mind the fact that my rice-eating father was from (very!) rural Plaquemines Parish. We lived in the city and city folk ate RICE.
In my young mind, cornbread was only for Thanksgiving dressing. People actually ate this stuff every day? How quaint. And kun-tree.
Luckily the sophisticate grew up, got over herself and learned to appreciate the hot, buttery, golden goodness that is cornbread. My mother and her siblings would always laugh about fighting over the corners because they had more crust. And that’s why I use muffin pans for cornbread: more crust per inch!
Cornbread provokes strong emotions and (mostly) friendly family feuds. Yellow or white cornmeal? Salty or sweet? Butter, shortening or lard? Milk, half and half or buttermilk? Jiffy, Martha White or Ballard?
In New Orleans we ask who made the potato salad. In Mississippi, they want to know who made the cornbread.