Let Me Count the Cornbreads...
Most weeks, the cornsomething our household offers as the foundation for Monday night Cornbread Supper represents the preferred menu planning approach in my kitchen, best summarized as "What have we got?" Or, as Lisle V. Roberts, aka Dad, liked to amuse me by replying to queries about what he wanted to eat, "What's available?"
Usually I make some version of cornbread, either black skillet style or in a large casserole pan. I add in whatever I can find, or leave it buttermilk-tangy and plain. Most of the time the primary cornbread includes neither sugar nor flour, but I'm multilingual in cornbread now, and often make additional corny options as alternatives to the main, non-sweet, non-floury offering.
Sometimes I get ambitious and we have spoonbread, or fancy grits (the only kind that most Kentuckians greet with enthusiasm), polenta, or even an experimental cornmeal-based dessert. This past week I had a lot of Stone Cross Farm bacon and a lot of Campsie Garden spring onions, so we had—as I'm guessing you guessed—Bacon-Spring Onion Cornbread in a giant baking dish, alongside a giant black skillet vegetarian option that boasted some jalapeño-stuffed green olives that had a bit too much bite for our household.
In the photo below, from an earlier Monday night, I can't even read my own description, but I can tell we had both a "what's available" option that featured smoked Kentucky meats and, in the right upper corner, some of the Cornmeal Blueberry Muffins, based on my sister-in-law's genius recipe, that particularly please our guests who are still in the single-digit age range.
I'm getting closer to my real point....
And that point is that the more I fool around with cornmeal and cornbreads, the more amazing the options become. Whether I choose to follow recipes or just go make cornbread "by heart" on Monday afternoons, I'm rarely stumped, because even the most basic cornbreads—like perfect sneakers, Emmy Lou Harris and the color turquoise—go well with just about everything: salads, soups, stews, meats, veggies, beans, wine, beer, lemonade, sparkling cider, iced tea (of course.) So after five years of weekly Cornbread Suppers, I'm still learning to respect cornbread and cornsomething properly. I am, in fact, in awe.
Two discoveries in the last two days underscore this. First, working to learn more about corn for a book project, I read through much of the crisp, erudite writing on the Anson Mills website, and marveled at the extraordinary history and current array of Zea Mays, the corn plant, something so familiar and so "everywhere" I rarely have given it two thoughts. I had no idea, for example, that specific approaches to milling, matched to specific types of corn, make a dramatic difference in the taste, texture, and food preparation options of different types of corn. You can see what I mean by starting on the "Products" page of the website and opening each product's special description to learn about the care taken in its cultivation and milling. See Colonial Coarse Pencil Cob Grits, for example. Go beyond corn if you like; the Carolina Gold rice story is equally noteworthy.
The entertaining Food52 provided my second discovery in a recent collection of seven "reinvented" cornbreads, plus an eighth, Vera Obias's Cheddar & Black Pepper Cornbread, made in biscuit fashion by cutting cold butter into savory dry ingredients. Yes, most of the recipes contain flour and sometimes sugar, so my choice to be a cornbread agnostic (helped along by gluten-free flour mixes) helps a great deal in imagining how tasty each may be.
Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Seeing the possibilities? Maybe not, and maybe I've had too much coffee, and most likely I won't do this because it is the opposite of "use what's available," but what if one set out to make the eight "reinvented cornbreads," over time, using the six Anson Mills cornmeal options, mixing and matching, and coming back to Kentucky, of course, for our own great cornmeals as well? I'm not good enough at math to come up with the right descriptor for the possibilities: geometric? algebraic? cubic? logarithmic? All I know for sure is crustic, crispic, crunchic.