Ode to Jonnycake

Ode to Jonnycake | Firecracker Journal

Quick: name one “true” American food. And no, my learned friend, hamburgers and hot dogs do not qualify.

Like so many other staples of the national table, they are a delicious nugget of an idea that came from somewhere else, only to be ingeniously transformed into a true-blue, uniquely American eating experience.

But there is at least one exception: Cornbread.

That's right, this utterly delicious, soul satisfying superstar earns the rare title of a “true American food”. Its origins, in fact, can be traced all the way back to the earliest period of Native American history. A main staple of their diet, native Americans were drying and grinding the copious grain into corn meal, the basic component of cornbread, as well as porridge and other simple breads long before the first European settlers ever arrived.

And after they did arrive?

Cornmeal use quickly spread throughout the first colonies as settlers began to use it (or “Indian meal”, in their vernacular) to replace more expensive and less available flours like wheat and oats. During the Civil War, cornbread was popular for it’s flexibility and, even then, affordability. Dense and flat, it was the perfect way to transport healthy, filling food for long distances over periods of time without adding burdensome weight.

Sometimes, that’s all soldiers in the field had to keep themselves alive; makeshift versions cooked up over an open fire with a prized dash of salt. By 1777, cornbread (aka johnnycake, jonnycake, journey cake, shawnee cake and more, depending on the variation) was a key component on the tables of those celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence a year before. 

And today, 238 years later, these United States of America are just as cornbread crazy as ever. Modern versions are made in very much the same way as always, albeit with copious regional and cultural twists that are the hallmark of this great melting pot. (Jalapeño cornbread, peppered cornbread, cornbread muffins, sweet cornbread, anyone?)

Paging Aunt Biddie...

Now, everyone and their Aunt Biddie claim to have the best cornbread recipe around. And you know what? We're no different. So without further ado, we present the perfect (slightly tweaked) family recipe to make this beloved American staple your very own 4th of July culinary sensation.

 

The Best Sweet Northern Cornbread Recipe

(With apologies to Aunt "What? No lard?" Biddie in Dallas.)

INGREDIENTS:
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup melted butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 eggs
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
In a small bowl, mix together buttermilk & baking soda.
In a separate medium sized bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, and salt.
Mix well.
In a medium sized skillet, melt the butter.
Remove from heat and stir in sugar. Add eggs and mix well.
Pour the egg mixture and the buttermilk mixture into the dry mix, and stir together until slightly lumpy.
We repeat: slightly lumpy. Do not over-stir.
Generously grease an 8 inch pan. Pour batter into pan and bake for 30 minutes...
... or longer, depending on how golden brown you prefer the top.

Let cool... serve... repeat.