Cornbread makes me think of long summer days sitting in the garden drinking cider and snuffling because my hayfever has acted up and my nose is blocked with pollen. It may sound unpleasant, but I love those days - we don't get that many of them in the UK so you really have to make the most of our short lived and confusingly spontaneous 'heatwaves'.
I think it must be this lack of warm weather that makes me yearn for a life in the South (of America people, as attractive as it seems I don't wish to become a tractor driving, moonshine swilling farmers wife in Devon). I'm thinking of the South where I could have a lovely big wooden house with a wrap around porch and spend my days drinking iced tea and grilling shrimp by the Bayou while listening to Clutch.
In my opinion, second to gumbo, cornbread is the dish that sums up the Deep South for me. It is a very humble dish using few ingredients, all of which are simple and wholesome and turned into something special with delicious spices key to Southern cuisine. Although I cannot say that this recipe is traditional, it is my reworking of a recipe which I believe is fairly authentic, taken from 'The New Orleans Cookbook' by Rima and Richard Collin. I would highly recommend it having tried several recipes, all of them being delicious, especially the Creole Jambalaya, Stuffed Artichokes and Crabmeat Ravigotte. There are also some wonderful dessert and drink recipes which would be perfect for a barbecue.
Sunday Dinner Cornbread
Serves 6 or more as a side dish
Adapted from 'The New Orleans Cookbook' by Rima and Richard Collin
120g / 1 cup yellow corn meal
120g / 1 cup plain flour
1 tbsp sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 large egg
250ml / 1 cup milk
60g / 1/4 cup vegetable shortening at room temperature (Such as Trex)
175g / 1 1/4 cups sweetcorn kernels (I used tinned)
250g / about 2 cups grated cheddar or other firm white cheese
3-4 tbsp of the fat leftover from frying the bacon
Place any size deep baking tray half filled with water on the very bottom of your oven and preheat it to 220 C/ 425 F.
Fry the bacon in 1 tablespoon of oil until crisp, remove from the pan and leave to cool, pouring 3-4 tablespoons of the fat left from the frying into an 8" baking pan. Chop the bacon into small pieces and set aside.
Combine the cornmeal, plain flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, allspice, white pepper and cayenne pepper in a large mixing bowl. Next add the egg and milk, beating with a wooden spoon until smooth, then adding the vegetable shortening and mixing again.
When the mixture is thoroughly combined add the bacon, sweetcorn and all but one handful of the grated cheese, mix and then pour into the baking tray smoothing over the top. Sprinkle over the remaining cheese and you should have something that looks like this...
Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until a knife slid into the centre comes out clean with no raw batter on it. If the top looks ready before the centre is cooked just cover it in tin foil and continue cooking for a few more minutes until done.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool for ten minutes before cutting into generous pieces. Cornbread is best served warm but is also delicious cooled to room temperature.
The tray half filled with water in the bottom of the oven is an old fashioned trick that helps to crisp the top of baked goods like breads and it really does work!
You could make all manner of additions to this recipe with different vegetables or shredded meats. I think prawns would be lovely fried off with some red and green peppers and onions.
Cornmeal can now be found in most large supermarkets, mostly in the ethnic foods aisle or in Chinese supermarkets. It is basically a medium ground polenta you are looking for.
If you removed the bacon and sweetcorn leaving the recipe a little more plain, it would be lovely used as a topping or crust over a stew or chili - place the cooked stew in an oven proof dish, then spread the cornbread mixture over the top and bake until crisp and golden. Yum!!!