Southern Skillet Cornbread

by Jim

This is my favorite cornbread. You'll find it a bit different from the way most people make it today. Most notably, it's cooked in a skillet on top of the stove, not baked in the oven. In the Old South, baking was done in wood-fired outdoor ovens, or in detached kitchens. It was hot unpleasant work and many cooks avoided it, particularly in the summertime.

2/3 cup plain white cornmeal (preferably stone-ground)
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
3 tablespoons (approx.) bacon grease
1 cup (approx.) milk

Melt the bacon grease in an 8" or 9" heavy skillet over medium-high heat (on my electric range I use heat setting 6-7). In a bowl, mix the dry ingredients together with a large spoon. Add the egg and 2/3 of the milk. Stir to mix then pour most of the melted bacon grease into the batter, leaving a little in the bottom of the skillet. Stir again and check the consistency. It should be pourable, about the consistency of thick pancake batter. If needed, add more milk or a little water.

Pour the batter into the skillet, cover and immediately reduce the heat to medium-low (about setting 2-3 on my range). Cook about 12 minutes, until the edges begin to appear dry and it's beginning to set in the center. There should be bubbles on top that aren't closing back up. Run a spatula/ pancake turner under the bread, lift it slightly (it should be firm enough not to break or fall apart), put the skillet upside down over the top, and flip the whole thing so the uncooked portion is now in the bottom of the skillet. Cover again and cook another 10 minutes or so. Turn it out onto a plate, cut into wedges and serve it hot with butter. Serves 6.

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