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Nov 2, 2008 05:59 AM

Cornbread: the North vs. South

I'm from Boston originally and I'll admit I prefer a sweeter corn bread, like the one from Durgin Park. It's more like a corn cake. But, now I'm making dinner for a family I've never met (community pitching in for needy family). They've been chickened and lasagned out so I'm bringing Carolina style pulled barbecue pork, cole slaw, mac and cheese, cornbread and brownies. So, a southern-ish meal. Should I go with a more southern, non-sweet, corn bread? This is a fairly large family so I need a larger one, maybe 9x13. When I do southern style corn bread, I normally make it in a cast iron skillet but can't here.

Southern or northern style? If southern, does anyone have a good recipe for one that can be baked in a 9x13 disposable aluminum pan? Thanks. Oh, if it matters, I'd like to serve it all hot.

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  1. Growing up in Mississippi all homemade cornbread had zero sugar. Only the Jiffy box came sweetened. Now I live near Raleigh and cornbread around here is almost always sweetened, so your usual cornbread is fully appropriate for Carolina pulled pork

    The pan is another issue entirely. Would the bottom crust be improved by setting that thin aluminum pan on a preheated heavier pan in your oven?

    2 Replies
    1. re: AreBe

      Funny, I've been thinking of this more in black and white (N or S of Mason Dixon line...) and didn't think of the shades of gray. FWIW, we're south of the MD line but part of fake communist Virginia so it's hard to know what people expect as corn bread goes.

      Good idea on putting the pan on a heavier pan. I always keep a pizza pan in the oven anyway. OTOH, I think the crust is a big part of the no sugar corn bread but less so with the durgin park recipe.

      1. re: chowser

        "fake communist virginia" -- LOL, i live there, too!

        i'd go with the non-sweet version, and bake with another heavier sheet pan underneath.

        i haven't tried to bob's red mill corn flour, but like their yellow grits/polenta.

        i'd go with a medium-fine yellow corn flour/meal.

        oh, and definitely use some rendered bacon fat in the bottom of the pan to get a little crust -- and pre-heat your pan (even if it is aluminum).

    2. My preference is the unsweetened, more corn pone style than corn cake style. If you have a baking sheet wherever it is you're going to cook, just pour your batter right in there (after greasing of course). Makes a great corn pone. Double up baking sheets for even better heat distribution. Will take much less time to cook. For more interest, add a can of kernal corn to the batter.

      1. if you can get some Bob's Red Mill cornflour at the supermarket, use that. Best rich Corn flavor, and very fresh, too.

        Some Southern cooks like to use rendered bacon fat for the shortening. I admit I'm never been brave enough. If you have some fat from the pulled pork, use that. And only a tablespoon or less of sugar. You could make some honey butter for the kids to use if they are used to sweeter cornbread. Make a jar full to leave.. it'd be a treat for them.

        Since nutrient-rich foods may be a rarity in the household, try not to go too fatty. Systems might not be used to it. But you can boost nutrition by adding some dried milk powder to the milk for both the mac n cheese and cornbread.

        Good luck with your meal, I'm sure they're going to enjoy your cooking!

        8 Replies
        1. re: toodie jane

          Thanks for all your help, everyone. Toodie Jane, I use bacon fat when I use the cast iron skillet and it's so good. It's not that much so I don't feel bad about it (and I rarely make cornbread that way anyway). I wish I had seen your honey butter idea because that would have been a great addition. KIlted Cook, I added the extra can of corn, semi chopped. Anyway, I just delivered the a huge McMansion. This was through the school PTA so I'm not going to ask but they are multi-million dollar houses.:-p So much for my needy family ideal.

          1. re: chowser

            For those of us who like our cornbread northern style, Trader Joe's mix is excellent - I go that route since I don't use enough cornmeal to justfy keeping a canister hanging around.

            Good for you for helping out...if it's any consolation, a hefty proportion of the families in the subprime mortgage debacle are in McMansions...they bought more house than they could afford, a lot of it new construction.

            1. re: greygarious

              I've had quite a few people highly recommend the Trader Joe's mix. They rave about it. I always have corn meal for dusting when I make bread and pasta.

              Yeah, it was just a big surprised to expect one thing and drive up to a huge McMansion instead. The house was three times the size of my house!

              1. re: chowser

                Don't dwell on it. It'll make you crazy.

                I always wonder about the value of worrying about two tablespoons of something that's not real healthy being added to a recipe where the offending ingredient is only a trace per serving.

                1. re: yayadave

                  I generally eat really heatlhfully but in part it's so I can enjoy things like the bacon fat and not think twice. As you said, those two tablespoons don't add up to much, divided through all the servings, but make a huge difference in taste.

                2. re: chowser

                  It comes down to the fact that if kids are going hungry so their folks can keep the home going, those kids need to be fed. You can't spend any time wondering about parental choices. Hopefully your outreach of generosity will help them through what's got to be a rough time.

                  It may be time to ressurect a thread or two about holiday food bank donations as time is getting close. We almost all can give something, and discussing it gets us off our rears. Thanks for bringing the subject up!

                  1. re: toodie jane

                    I think there was a thread recently on Not about Food about donations. I found out today that the kids are 21, 19, 17, and 13. I'd do it again in a second and don't mind lending a hand, but I was just taken aback yesterday. Yes, and food donations are so important to help families get through tough times and the demand is huge these days.

              2. re: chowser

                chowser, when I used to deliver meals on wheels, they always cautioned us never to draw conclusions about the appearances of the people we were delivering to, as to whether they seemed to 'need' the food or not. They had their selection criteria, so if the people met those, then their apparent living circumstances may have been deceiving. (for the most part it was a no-brainer, though - most people obviously needed some help).

                Just based on your original plan, I would think an unsweetened corn bread would go better with pulled pork. Hope they enjoyed it!

            2. I am firmly in the no sugar camp. I don't use flour in my cornbread either. If you can get it, Indian Head cornmeal is the tops!

              9 Replies
              1. re: Candy

                Yes, that's exactly what I use when I make southern style cornbread--no sugar, no flour, cast iron pan w/ bacon, Indian Head cornmeal. It does depend on what we're having as a main course but I love corn cake style corn bread just for regular eating. It's like having dessert.

                1. re: chowser

                  I agree Candy and Chowser, no sugar, IH cornmeal, also buttermilk and Bacon Fat in a cast iron skillet. Love that golden brown crust

                  1. re: kpaumer

                    And that wonderful crispy crunch. It is really hard to beat Indian Head. Truly fine cornmeal. Some times I use buttermilk and sometimes regular. If you are going to use buttermilk you will need to add a bit of baking soda, about a 1/4 tsp. per batch.

                    Another must is to get the cast iron pan and fat really hot so that as you add the batter to the pan the batter sizzles and fries as it hits the hot pan. Essential for the crunchy crispy crust.

                    Anson Mills is producing cornmeal and we are going to try to start stocking it in the shop along with their wonderful grits and rice.

                    1. re: Candy

                      "Another must is to get the cast iron pan and fat really hot so that as you add the batter to the pan the batter sizzles and fries as it hits the hot pan."

                      This was another of my concerns about making it in a disposable aluminum container. You can't get the hot sizzle w/out the cast iron and I wanted to bring hot corn bread. So, I'd have had to find another container (though in hindsight, I could have turned it out onto the disposable container). For northern style cornbread, it's more cakey and you don't expect that crusty edge.

                      1. re: Candy

                        Candy, would you mind posting your "go to" cornbread recipe?? I usually use the recipe on the back of the Indian Head bag.

                        1. re: Ora

                          I use that one too. If I want to use buttermilk instead of whole milk I add 1/4 tsp. of baking soda to the recipe.

                          1. re: Candy

                            OK--I usually use butter instead of the shortening called for in the back of the bag recipe. And I like to use evaporated milk if I have any.

                            1. re: Ora

                              I don't use butter, it burns before the pan can get hot enough, unless you are using clarified butter. I use pure rendered lard I get from a farmer that has no partially hydrogenated fats. If I don't use that I use bacon fat.

                              BTW the newest King Arthur catalog is offering old fashioned grease pots with a strainer and lid in a combo of metal and porcelain. My shop just got in some that are all porcelain also with the filters. There seems to be a demand for them all of a sudden.

                              1. re: Candy

                                candy--I find butter works ok if you het the pan hot, have the batter ready to pour, and swirl a generous pat just a second or two before pouring the batter in. The batter pushes the butter out and up the sides, and cools the pan as it makes contact. The butter doesn't seem to burn. No smoking or burnt flavor. Haste is what counts here, though. No tarrying.

                                I'll have to save some pork fat from the next shoulder I roast for CORNBREAD. oh yum. Thanks for the idea.

                2. I'm from Texas, now living near New Orleans. We have always put sugar in our cornbread...except when making cornbread for dressing.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: southerngal

                    It sounds like I can't just paint corn bread into north and south but it's a region specific, at least, thing. I love corn bread dressing.