We in the South are much like the people of France. We are barely done with one meal before we’re talking about the next. So you can imagine how worked up we get about food festivals. We can barely contain ourselves.
Tennessee boasts many fine food festivals, with almost all of them involving hot oil in one way or another. Of course, there is the World’s Biggest Fish Fry in Paris, Tennessee. It involves approximately five tons of catfish. We do like our catfish. Fried, of course. The fish fry is known to draw politicians like flies. There’s nothing more humorous than a politician in his fancy clothes attempting to look like a man of the people eating a greasy hunk of catfish.
Then there’s the pride and joy of Nashville, the Hot Chicken Festival. As far as I know hot chicken was invented in Nashville and has remained confined to this area for obvious reasons. The chicken is ridiculously hot. It is coated with cayenne pepper and comes in various levels of heat from mild to hot, with medium merely blowing the top of your head smack off. People just love the stuff.
And then there’s the National Cornbread Festival. It’s in South Pittsburg, Tennessee. There is no North Pittsburg that I can find. Maybe everyone in North Pittsburg moved south a few miles for the cornbread. My personal opinion is that this festival has taken cornbread to ridiculous places. The winner this year was Bacon and Gorgonzola Cornbread Sliders with Chipotle Mayonnaise.It’s nice to be creative, but there are some foods for which simpler is best. Cornbread is one of those things. However, this fact will not stop me from considering entering the National Cornbread contest next year. I’m always up for a challenge.
At any rate, if you live in the South and you make cornbread for any length of time you come to the understanding that there is only one product that will reliably do the trick. It is Martha White Self-Rising Corn Meal Mix with “Hot Rize.” If you cannot buy it in the grocery store where you live, you need to order it online. There is no substitution. I’ll probably hear from Terrell about this, but I’m resilient. I can take it.
So, here’s the recipe right off the back of the package, with a few of my variations thrown in. Let me say this before I get to the recipe. You must use a cast iron skillet, which must be heated in the oven for a good 15 minutes with Crisco shortening in the pan. If you don’t have the Crisco hot enough when you add the batter it won’t sizzle and you won’t get that crunchy, greasy cornbread crust.
Martha White’s Southern Cornbread
1 egg beaten
1 1/3 cups whole milk
1/4 cup Crisco oil or shortening
2 cups Martha White Self-Rising Corn Meal Mix
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Heat a cast iron skillet with the Crisco in it for 15 minutes.
Combine egg, milk and cornbread mix, blending well. Carefully add to hot pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes.
Invert cornbread onto a platter so your guests can admire that beautiful crust.
Note: Cornbread does not “keep,” in my opinion. However, if you have any left over reheating it in the oven is the optimum way to enjoy it. I know Terrell’s going to say it’s good dunked into milk, but he would be wrong. I hope he doesn’t read this far.