Saturday, September 14, 2013

Confessions of a true Southerner: Why my mother spent the night before my wedding teaching me how to make cornbread

As y'all know, Mom and I do a series of short articles entitled "Confessions of a true Southerner." This article is the one that started it all. My aunt Rubye (mentioned below) was a jewel. I still dream about her deletable southern spreads! My sister, Page Hopkins, also makes outstanding southern food. Her Mexican Cornbread is the best I've ever had--hands down! She's coming out with a new cookbook soon, COOKING YOUR SASS OFF SOUTHERN STYLE.

Here's a link to her blog with a recipe for the cornbread and an actual photo of it. People fight to get ahold of Page's recipes, so getting this recipe is a rare treat!

The best Mexican Cornbread you'll ever put in your mouth. 

(I should clarify that my brother Robert had a hand in this recipe too. For all of y'all that don't know--there are lots of southern men out there that know their way around the kitchen, but that's a story for another time.) Enjoy!

Sometime between shopping for a last minute pair of shoes for my honeymoon and stopping by the jewelry store to pick up earrings, the topic came up that I didn’t know how to make cornbread. Now the first thing you have to know is that in the South, it’s just understood that every woman knows how to make a piping, hot skillet of cornbread. It’s a right of passage that’s so expected that it’s seldom, if ever, discussed. But don’t let that fool you. Its importance ranks right up there with football and whistling Dixie. In fact, cornbread is the great dividing factor. Let me explain. If you put ten people in a room together and divide them up between the ones that know how to make cornbread and the ones that don’t, you’ll find that the “I don’t know hows” would be from up North or out West—guaranteed! Now they might tell you that they make cornbread, but rest assured, it’s some sugary concoction that’s still trying to decide if it’s cake or cornbread. They just can’t get the formula right! That’s because it’s a well-guarded secret that’s never written down.

After my mother picked her jaw off the floor that fateful day, we went straight home where she proceeded to show me how to make cornbread. “No daughter of mine is going to get married without knowing how to make cornbread,” she said. Then she threw in a little of this and a little of that and started mixing. Just when I thought I had it down, she threw in a little more of this and a lot more of that. Needless to say, when I presented my first skillet of cornbread (that sacred creation that gave me claim to my heritage) to my newly married husband, it was drier than a piece of cardboard and tougher than wood. He was a trooper though, trying to choke it down with a big glass of milk. Finally, he just crumbled it all up and drank it like a slushy. For several months after that, he claimed that he “just didn’t care much for cornbread.”

Not like cornbread? Ridiculous! My husband was born and raised in Georgia and has a father who can give a year-long dissertation on the War Between the States, or the War of Southern Independence, or (his personal favorite) the War of Northern Aggression. How could my husband not like cornbread? He’d been raised on it, probably slurping down cornbread crumbs in his bottle before he had any teeth. All it took was one visit to my aunt Rubye’s house for me to realize that he just didn’t like my cornbread.

Aunt Rubye lived way out in the country to where the road dead-ended. With an old wringer washing machine on the back porch, Rubye reminded me of a relic of the fifties with her hair in a bun, face scrubbed free of make-up, sensible nursing shoes, and housecoat; but boy, oh, boy how that woman could cook! Every meal I ever ate at her house was a feast. Of course, if you didn’t like fried foods, you were out of luck—fried okra, fried squash, fried green tomatoes, fried eggs, fried chicken, fried fish, fried squirrel. Heck, she’s been known to fry up a possum if it happened to be unlucky enough to get too close to the back door. Her favorite expression was, “Y’all take out and eat now, ya hear?” In English, that means: don’t hold back, but eat as much as you can possibly cram into your poor, stretched stomach. I have to say that on that fateful day, my husband took Rubye at her word. He was polishing off his third piece of cornbread when I came around the corner and saw him. Our eyes met, and he knew the jig was up.

“I thought you didn’t like cornbread,” I said with that crestfallen look that only a newly married bride can perfect.

While he was trying to come up with some reasonable explanation that would keep him off the couch for a week, Rubye stepped in. “Not like cornbread? That’s his third piece, and he’s fixing to go for number four if I have anything to say about it.” And then Rubye gave him a searching look. “Where’d you say you were from?”

He swallowed hard and looked down at the floor. “Georgia.”

A broad smile spread over Rubye’s face. “Well there ya go! The boy’s from Georgia. Of course he likes cornbread!”

I’m happy to report that after twenty something years of marriage, my husband’s starting to come around—or maybe I’ve finally found my way around the southern kitchen. One thing’s for sure: when I get a craving for pinto beans, fresh collard greens, and (you guessed it) a piping, hot skillet of cornbread, I go into the kitchen and start adding a little bit of this and a whole lot of that, and before you know it...voila! The South is reborn. 

Our "Confessions of a True Southerner" articles are being featured on The Magill Review. You can seem them all HERE.

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