The most disappointing aspect of the sugar epidemic in the American diet is sugar creeping into good ol’ fashioned Southern cornbread — even at some well-established Nashville meat-and-threes. As Jiffy spreads its cake-like influence across the South, it’s time to go to bat for Nashville’s true cornbread heritage. Here’s a skillet cornbread primer to school the new Nashville transplants:
Nashville is home to the world-famous Southern flour and cornmeal brand Martha White. Company owner Cohen E. Williams, a marketing pioneer, brilliantly reached daily biscuit and cornbread bakers all over the rural South by sponsoring WSM’s early morning Biscuit and Cornbread Time broadcast and a Saturday-night segment on the Grand Ole Opry. The brand became synonymous with bluegrass music thanks to its legendary partnership with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.
So, if you want true Nashville-style cornbread, start with Martha White’s hometown self-rising cornmeal mix or self-rising cornmeal with Hot Rize. Self-rising cornmeal mix is a blend of cornmeal with a little bit of flour plus leavening and salt. Self-rising cornmeal has no flour added. Mix up the cornmeal with a little oil, an optional egg and buttermilk or sweet milk (aka regular milk), and the batter is ready to go. No sugar added.
You’ll need an iron skillet. Good cornbread is all about the crust, and the best crust comes from a well-seasoned iron skillet that has been preheated with bacon drippings or oil. When the batter hits the pan, pow! It sizzles. After baking, always serve cornbread flipped out of the pan with the beautiful browned crust face up. If you leave it in the pan, you’ll dull your knives, and the crust will become soggy.
Don’t get hung up on color. Around here, white cornmeal is the preference, but both white and yellow corn make great cornbread.
For moist cornbread, the batter must be creamy and pourable like pancake batter. (Thick, dense batter makes dry cornbread.) Add more liquid if it’s stiff; you want the batter to slide to the edges of the pan with ease. A shot of water will quickly loosen things up.
Now, about the balance of outside crust and inside moisture. To us, the finest cornbread is an inch thick and a mile wide. Most two-cup recipes baked in an 8- or 10-inch skillet are just too tall, denying the cornbread its rightful ratio of crust. We prefer about 1 ½ cups of cornmeal mix for a 12-inch skillet.