Gramma Z’s Flipped Cornbread submitted by Angela Charbonneau
My Gramma, Zona Kennedy Knauss , made this cornbread 4-5 times a week for 50 years or so. The ingredients are very simple, but the technique is quite an art. It’s a bit unusual in that most cornbread recipes call for flour in addition to the cornmeal. But this was the style of cornbread that we were raised on – her mother made it that way and all her sisters made it that way and now I make it that way (my Mama HATES to cook so she only grudgingly makes it at the holidays when she needs it for cornbread dressing.) My Gramma grew up on very large farm in the Magee/Mendenhall, Mississippi area in the 1920s and 30s. I can only surmise (because I never asked) that the reason it is a flourless cornbread is because wheat was not something they could grow, but they grew acres and acres and acres of corn.
When I was growing up in the 1970s, I went over to my Gramma’s house pretty much every day. If I was mad at my parents, I would run away from home and bike over to my beloved Gramma’s. When I arrived at Gramma’s, I did two things each and every time without fail. First, as soon as I stepped down into her den, I started backing up heading towards sitting in her lap. She had a 70s green tweed colonial style swivel rocking chair and I literally sat in her lap until I was taller than her (she was not very tall and I was tall for my age – I probably sat in her lap until about 7th grade, my arms and legs dangling all over.) The second thing I would do was go look in her fridge to see if she had any leftover cornbread wrapped in foil. I would eat it cold right out of the fridge. To comprehend how much I loved this cornbread, you have to understand that my Gramma always had some sort of homemade cake, the super fancy Keebler Fudge Shop cookies (we always had generic cookies at our house), name brand potato chips (Charles Chips in the canister or Lays) and all kinds of candy and yet the first thing I went for was some day old cornbread. It’s that good. There’s no sugar in it, but something about browning it on both sides gives it sort of a caramelized taste, again not sweet, but the extra browning makes it sublime. Because there is no flour in it, it has a wonderfully granular mouth feel.
My Gramma did not have a recipe for her cornbread. She learned it from her mama who probably learned it from her mama. When I would ask her how to make it she would say it you mix up 2 spoonfuls of cornmeal with some egg and buttermilk. Spoken like a lady that’s been cooking it for decades. Her spoken recipe was not precise enough for me so sometime when I was in college I had her slow it down and we measured out the cornmeal and I wrote down all the steps. Her “2 spoonfuls” turned out to be 2 dinner table serving spoons full, i.e. about 3/4 of a cup. I could never get her to measure out the buttermilk – that’s just all by feel and looking at it.
My Gramma did not have a recipe for her cornbread. She learned it from her mama who probably learned it from her mama. When I would ask her how to make it she would say it you mix up 2 spoonfuls of cornmeal with some egg and buttermilk. Spoken like a lady that’s been cooking it for decades.
- 3/4 cup self-rising white cornmeal *
- 1 large egg
- Cooking Oil enough to coat bottom of the pan
- Important Note: You must have a well seasoned #5 or #6 cast iron skillet (8-9" diameter). The trick with this recipe is to not have too much batter in the pan, otherwise, the bottom will burn before it is ready to flip.
- To make batter, combine cornmeal and egg then add enough buttermilk to achieve a "soupy" consistency. Gramma Z would say the consistency of runny grits.
- Heat cooking oil on Medium High. Sprinkle a little cornmeal in skillet when it is good and hot and turn heat down to medium, Pour oil into batter then pour batter back into pan, You do not want the batter to be too deep , an 1-2 inches max. Depending on how your stove cooks you may need to turn the heat down a little further.
- The cornbread is ready to flip when you start seeing sufficient bubbles (think pancakes), it starts to pull away from the sides of the skillet, and looks just barely set on top. Flip it like a pancake (though the art of the flipping is a lot harder than a pancake- I've had many fails.) Cook for another minute or two until the flip side is brown. Turn out onto a plate and cut into wedges.
*I have found that self-rising cornmeal is not available outside the Deep South. I very rarely find it in Texas. Don't get self-rising cornmeal confused with self-rising cornmeal mix which has flour in it. Self-rising cornmeal is just cornmeal and the leavening agents.
If you cannot find self-rising cornmeal, you can easily make your own. For 1 cup, mix 1 TBSP baking powder, 1/2 tsp fine salt (regular table salt, not kosher), 3/4 c. cornmeal + 3 TBSP cornmeal. That's it, easy peasy. Although, easier is to pick up some self-rising at the Piggly Wiggly if you find yourself in the Deep South. It keeps a long while in the freezer!