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Dec 19, 2010 12:14 AM

Cornbread: Sweet or Savory?

It is economics that's behind why northerners (generally) eat cornbread w/ sugar in the batter and southerners (generally) don't.

In the South, cornbread was eaten as a bread with your meal and you used it to sop up juices. Cornbread was used for basic sanwiches and as a base to pour your beans & ham hocks or other stewed dishes on (crumbled on greenbeans etc) You do not want sweetened cornbread for this - I can tell you sweet cornbread will spoil a dish of pinto beans instantly - ugh.

White bread was called 'lightbread' and most people couldn't afford much of it in the depressed South; flour was far more costly than cornmeal.
Biscuits on Sunday and rolls for Sunday dinner might use up the weekly budget for wheat flour. Of course those days are long gone now, thank God!

I have a lot of Northern-type friends and they insist on sugar in cornbread. But then they aren't accustomed to eat the cornnbread mixed w/ their main meal. They eat it as muffins, a sweet cake, plain or with butter.
I like sweet corn muffins just fine, but they are not the utilitarian Cornbread that is indespensible in Southern dining, to be used as a sop and an accompanyment to your main dishes.

I have dicussed this w/ people from all over, and most have an opinion. I'm curious what Chowhounders will answer with regard to this.
Thanks : )

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  1. Well to me putting sugar in your cornbread is like putting ketchup on steak. I haven't heard the term "lightbread" in years since my grandmother passed.

    I make my cornbread in an iron skillet using Tenda-Bake yellow cornmeal and buttermilk.

    6 Replies
    1. re: vafarmwife

      if I begged would you post the recipe please? sounds wonderful and I have a 123 year old cast iron that is waiting to give it a try, thanks

      1. re: iL Divo

        Sure it ain't no secret...

        Heat oven to 450- put a big tablespoon or two of bacon grease or Crisco in cast iron skillet. Wait until oven reaches 450 to put skillet in to melt grease or shortening. Get skillet really hot in oven.

        In one bowl combine the following:
        1 cup yellow Tenda Bake cornmeal
        1/2 cup all purpose flour- I like Southern Biscuit brand flour-
        1 teaspoon salt

        In separate bowl combine the following:
        1 cup buttermilk
        1/2 cup milk
        1 egg
        1 tablespoon baking powder
        1/2 teaspoon baking soda
        1/4 cup melted shortening or bacon grease

        Mix liquids and then add dry ingredients. Don't overmix- mix until just blended. Batter will be lumpy. Pour into smoking hot skillet (you know your skillet is hot enough when you pour in the batter and it sizzles) and bake for 20-25 minutes until brown. Let cool slightly in skillet and then turn out. You know your skillet is well seasoned when cornbread slides out and the middle of the cornbread isn't left in the skillet. Don't wash the skillet- just wipe it out with a paper towel. Also don't use your cornbread skillet for anything else.

        1. re: vafarmwife

          well with my lamb roast tonight, I'm making this.........
          thank you very much...........
          I gotta go to market after church anyway, so I'll pick up some buttermilk.
          walmarchay, here come.........

          1. re: iL Divo

            Well if you don't hvae buttermilk, you can sour sweet milk with vinegar or lemon juice.

        2. re: iL Divo

          My cornbread recipe and a brief history.

          At the turn from the 19th to the 20th century, my grandmother was born on a farm in a southern state while it was still a territory. Many years later, my sister and her two brothers, were all born over a time spanning the early to late fifties.

          Our grandmother occasionally served a somewhat dry cornbread that contained no sugar other than that naturally occurring in the corn. It was one of my favorite things in life to eat it hot, right out of the oven with as much extra butter as I could sneak without my parents or grandmother noticing.

          Years later, in the late eighty's, a friend took out his cast iron skillet from the cupboard and cooked up a package of (I think it was unsweetened) Jiffy cornbread mix which was a reasonable facsimile of that which my grandmother once prepared.

          This started a chain of events that eventually led to me entering a 4th of July Jalapeno Cornbread cook-off, two years in a row.

          The first year my Jalapeno Cornbread got honorable mention. The first and second place prizes went to dishes that both contained meat in their recipe. I figure they should have been disqualified for being casseroles.

          As for the second year: Though I am extremely honored to have been awarded the second place ribbon, I have every confidence that I very likely should have won first place. Don't we all think that? Allas, the first place prize was given to the chef which was employed by the Hotel on who's property the event was held, OK, maybe the contest wasn't rigged. There is no question though, that the judges (and possibly the chef) really enjoyed my Jalapeno Cornbread. (Grin) I've recently been told by my estranged wife that she'd pay me to make her a batch. (Grin again)

          Though I have a couple secret ingredients (neither sugar nor any other kind of flour are a part of it) My basic recipe is from the package of the "Morrison's Premium Stone Ground Corn Meal" from Morrison Mills (in Denton, Texas I think). I haven't purchased their brand for awhile so I don't know if it's still available but I bought it through HEB grocers here in the DFW area.

          Here's the basic recipe with my spin on it:
          2 cups High quality (Organic) Premium Stone Ground Corn Meal
          2 eggs beaten
          2 cups buttermilk (I prefer cultured buttermilk)
          1 teaspoon (Himalayan sea) salt
          1 teaspoon baking soda
          2 teaspoons baking powder
          2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I prefer a high quality, virgin, "first pressed" Olive Oil). Never use hydrogenated oils or canola oil.

          1. Preheat oven to 425°F (and place a #7 or #8 cast iron skillet or 2 cast iron muffin pans in the oven to preheat as well) Do NOT grease them at this time.

          2. Mix together eggs, buttermilk and oil in medium size mixing bowl. Don't over-mix.

          3. in a separate (larger) bowl, combine dry ingredients, Include any other ingredients such as jalapenos or corn, etc. Quantities to your taste and feel free to experiment with other ingredients from the garden. That's half the fun of creating a great dish!

          4. Then pour the liquid mixture over the dry mixture and mix with a LARGE wire whisk. But again, do not over-mix. Do be sure all dry ingredients are scraped off the bottom and sides.

          5. Remove preheated cast iron skillet or cast iron muffin pans from oven and quickly spray a liberal amount of cooking spray in to the pan(s) then pour in the batter. Be sure not to overfill the muffin cups (about 1/8 to 1/4 below the top. They should rise.

          6. Bake at 425°F for 30 to 35 minutes or until done.

          Should be enjoyed with good creamery butter and nothing else (IMOHO). I predict that nothing will be left after 30 minutes but if there ARE leftovers I cover it with a thin dishcloth to be enjoyed the next day. Can also be frozen but why would you want to? Just eat it!

          Bon appetite!


          1. re: jseydler

            I forgot to add that my cornbread is never dry. I believe it's because of the buttermilk and the coarse ground cornmeal. I like it way better than my grandmother's version.
            P.S. I've attached a picture of the recipe from the original bag Morrison’s Premium Stone Ground Corn Meal. However, the cornmeal I now buy comes from certified organic, non GMO corn.

      2. I was raised a "swamp yankee" from Rhode Island. We had Johnny Cakes while growing up. My father being a preacher we didn't have much money. I have never heard of sugar in cornbread. My Mom would make a thin corn batter, no sugar no salt and fry them in oil. When we had a "little extra" she would make corn bread with corn kernels, onions and a jalapeno in it. Corn bread was more prevalent in our home yet we have no southern roots, served on the side, on top or under our meal. Maybe it was because my Mom was the "original" Girl Scout and cornbread was easiest for camping.

        9 Replies
        1. re: breadfan

          The cooking method you describe is what we call fried bread or skillet bread. Russian corn bread had a can of cream style corn and sour cream in it- don't know how that made it Russian. Mexican corn bread had a can of mexi-corn it and maybe green pepper. My grandmother would fancy up cornbead with cheddar cheese and broccoli sometimes,

          1. re: vafarmwife

            I follow the Jiffy directions on the box......greased skillet and baked in the oven. No sugar added, but I like to chop Jalapeno peppers for a little heat and variety.

            1. re: fourunder

              The little Jiffy boxes have plenty of sugar iirc. They may make them different by region. I'm in Illinois, and they are definitely sweet cornbread here.

              So, for a reply to the op, I like both, but I definitely grew up with and prefer savory cornbread. Most of mt family hails from Mississippi. I do vividly remember the first time I had a sweet cornbread, and I'm pretty sure it was made using the little Jiffy boxes. I was mildly shocked.

              1. re: gordeaux

                I agree with the Jiffy mix- it's 90% sugar and 10% cornmeal. But if sweet cornbread is what turns you on then hey who I am to say it[s wrong. I'm sure I eat some things that some people would turn their nose up about. In fact I know it as I have been told that on this board more than once.


                1. re: vafarmwife

                  you may not like the product, but there's no reason to provide false information. according to the ingredients list sugar is the third item listed, so your belief and comments are simply wrong.


                2. re: gordeaux

                  I agree with you. I love a sweet version with certain meals, it's a sweet when otherwise there isn't one. I also love a very savory to tie the meal together.

                  1. re: iL Divo

                    Yep, I like them both too. I discovered some pastries in Nogales, Mexico that were shaped like a wide, fairly flat cupcake, and they were sweet and wonderful and savory at the same time, and I love them so much I always buy them when I can get to a panaderia here- distinctly cornmeal or corn flour tasting, but with a lovely sweetness. That's for dessert. Either way, when I make cornbread in a cast iron skillet with a bunch of bacon fat as the pan grease, I get way more compliments when I make a sweet cornbread than not. I love the totally savory cornbread, too.

              2. re: vafarmwife

                Tis' the sour cream that makes it psuedoRussian, vafarmwife.

              3. re: breadfan

                Now, johnny cakes sound familiar. That is what my mother called them and they were not sweet, just fantastic. I'll have to try to duplicate them but don't hold much hope as I am new to cooking on my own. Wish me luck.

              4. I never had cornbread at all growing up. I spent almost 30 years in Indiana, and love the sweet cornbread I always had there. Now I live in Georgia, and my rural Georgian co-worker gives me her sweet cornbread, and I give her my dry crumbly cornbread when we get take-out meals.

                She likes the Southern kind because she crumbles it into her buttermilk or into her greens, and that would just be icky with the sweet stuff.
                I like the sweet kind with butter as a side, or even as a snack with tea.

                7 Replies
                1. re: jmcarthur8

                  the dry variety of cornbread sounds like it would be a great addition to a well seasoned and well cooked green bean casserole. the idea of sprinkling it over the top and baking or even mixing in, I love that. add some crispy bacon bit and well cooked chunks of potato and that'd be all I'd need for dinner.

                  thanks for the idea

                  1. re: iL Divo

                    If you sprinkle it on top and drizzle it with some melted butter, I could be there in no time flat with a good bottle of dry white and a salad - or some hothouse tomatoes if I can find them, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic and kosher salt and pepper.

                  2. re: jmcarthur8

                    Just for my curiosity. Does that mean the non-sweet ones will come out drier? Or do they just tend to get more stale without the sugar? I thought they would still be moist with all the fat added in.

                    1. re: vil

                      Every time I've had Southern style cornbread here in Georgia, it has been freshly made (by native Georgians who "cook Southern"), and is dry and crumbly from the get-go. Usually it's been made in a cast iron skillet, but I don't know if that makes a difference.

                      1. re: vil

                        the more flour, the less crumbly. corn doesn't like to stick so good...

                        1. re: Chowrin

                          I see and thanks, both of you. This will be helpful as I experiment with the recipes. I am hoping to maximize on the corn flavour but retaining the moistness too. I am already visualizing a recipe with corn kernels.

                      1. re: Uncle Bob

                        I stand with Uncle Bob and others who nix the sugar in cornbread, and my favorite method is to bake it in a hot cast iron skillet smeared with bacon drippings.

                        1. re: Val

                          Agree with you and Uncle Bob: no sugar. A hot cast iron skillet with oil, butter, or bacon fat, then add some dry cornmeal or cornmeal mix - when it starts to brown and sizzle add the cornbread batter and bake in a hot oven. Delicious.

                      2. I think Marie Calender recipe calls for half recipe of corn bread and half of a yellow cake mix and mix the two. Hers is light and sweet, not heavy or dense and with a whipped butter and maybe some honey, yummm

                        21 Replies
                        1. re: iL Divo

                          As a guy raised in both the North and the South, I prefer a moister version, but not the cake style. Too many yankees make their cornbread like a light cake. On the other hand, I don't like the dry, salty cornbread I was served in the South.

                          1. re: GraydonCarter

                            I don't care for the dry stuff either.
                            If I reach for a quick glass of milk, it's a bust for me...........
                            plus the fam doesn't like it dry either........

                            1. re: iL Divo

                              "If I reach for a quick glass of milk, it's a bust for me" ~~~

                              Reminds me...Not so far in the distant past, left over cornbread crumbled into a glass of milk/buttermilk was treat for a quick Sunday night supper. Usually after a big Sunday dinner, "Milk & Bread" .was just enough to tide one over till breakfast....


                              1. re: Uncle Bob

                                Milk & Bread = Leftover cornbread crumbled into a glass of sweet milk or buttermilk....Eaten as a light simple supper...usually after a big Sunday dinner.

                                1. re: Uncle Bob

                                  I've never had CB in sweet milk only in buttermilk. I think it's something one had to grow up eating, don't you?

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    Yes, I think so...It's an acquired taste for sure... I learned it from my
                                    Grandmother, who had learned it from her mother, who had learned it from..... etc. etc. My wife, a Southern girl who loves milk and loves cornbread can't stand it!! Bless her heart! :)

                                  2. re: Uncle Bob

                                    Whenever we went to my grandmothers house, a bowl of milk and day old cornbread was considered a quick breakfast item. My cousin and I used to spice it up by adding a spoonful of chocolate milk powder to the milk, which my grandmother loved giving us.

                                    My grandfather used to eat it with buttermilk, which is something I never really liked as a kid.

                                    1. re: Uncle Bob

                                      Getting a nostalgic visual UB, very sweet (and) I'll bet delicious too.
                                      In our household it was 3 individual squares of a saltine spread with the thinnest sheathe of real churned butter.

                                      1. re: iL Divo

                                        Not so sweet really....There is/was no sugar in the bread, and the milk was just like it came out of the cow...or off your grocers shelf. Delicious? Yes!!

                                        1. re: Uncle Bob

                                          I didn't mean sweet that way UB, I meant it's a darling story.................
                                          sweet as in, oh the memory...............

                                          1. re: iL Divo

                                            Aw shucks ma'am...I'm sorry I misunderstood the point of your kind reply... :)

                                            My Warmest Regards and a very Merry Christmas!!

                                            1. re: Uncle Bob

                                              It is a Merry Christmas UB and a very Merry Christmas to you as well.

                                      2. re: Uncle Bob

                                        Crumbled up cornbread in glass of buttermilk? Round here, we call that a hillbilly milkshake.

                                        1. re: Uncle Bob

                                          I had this for breakfast this morning.

                                          Learned the trick from my dad, and I still use an old amber Fostoria glass (part of a set that was a wedding gift for my parents back in '65) to eat it from.

                                          1. re: Uncle Bob

                                            We used to dip our cornbread in the milk too... I believe in Louisiana it's called cushcush (varieties of spelling there). Anyways, when we were served cornbread in the cafeteria at school, this is what you did after you finished the entree. Pour out milk in the little cornbread square of the tray and eat it. I have never had sweetened cornbread like they make up North, but I probably wouldn't immediately know it was cornbread if I was served it.

                                        2. re: GraydonCarter

                                          In My South, Corn Bread is not dry nor overly salty. Rather it has a browned top, a tender moist crumb, a delightfully crusty bottom and sides, and it damn sure "ain't" Sweet! ~~ Dry cornbread would indicate to me..over cooked, stale bread, or maybe dried out under some type of "cafeteria" heat lamps, a screwed up recipe, an incompetent cook or all of the above ~~ Finding a good example of Southern (non sweet) cornbread outside of a home would be a hit or miss proposition as most institutional or chain establishments miss the boat! Cornbread is at it's best just out of the oven, turned out of a cast iron skillet, cut into wedges and eaten...

                                          Have Fun & Enjoy!

                                            1. re: Uncle Bob

                                              Would you mind posting a recipe please, Uncle Bob? I lived a year in Mississippi and really miss the home made corn bread colleagues would bring in. It was the crusty on the bottom kind, not sweet at all and super yummy. This was invariably a day old, not fresh out of the oven. I've tried recreating a couple of times with recipes from cookbooks, but mine turned out dry even within a couple of hours. Thanks!

                                              1. re: sweetTooth

                                                see my reply above - that crusty top comes from that method - -