Grandma’s Cornbread and Pot Likker!!!

There are some writings that just  hit my heart.   This is one of those pieces.  Larry Davis and I could have been raised in the same house!   What fond memories came flooding back as I read!!
©2010 Larry D.Davis

Oh man, this is how I love it!!

I believe we are the sum total of all that has gone before us— the experiences and the food traditions that have been entrusted into our care after the parents and grandparents are no longer with us in body,  but in spirit.

Specifically, I believe my life has been inexorably influenced by all those who have gone before me whether they were from Virginia, Kentucky, the Carolinas, Mississippi, Arkansas or Texas.  All that somehow culminated in me whether it be my mannerisms, manner of speech or…my food preferences.

To me, nuthin’ in the world reminds me of the comforts of “home” more than the smell of freshly baked cornbread, southern style, and when I get a yearning to “taste my “childhood”, I make cornbread by Mom’s recipe.

Matter of fact, I did just that very thing today!

Making her recipe follows two cardinal rules for truly Southern cornbread — there’s no sugar in the recipe and it must be baked in a pre-heated cast iron skillet so the top is lightly browned, the insides are soft as a baby’s bottom and there’s a nice crust on the bottom.

That bottom crust is the secret since it lends texture like none other and is attainable only by putting oil or, in the old days, bacon grease into the skillet and pre-heating it in the hot oven before adding the prepared batter.  It really sizzles when the batter hits that hot oil and a wonderful crust forms almost immediately.

The cast iron skillet I use was passed down to me from my grandmother’s sister-in-law, my great Aunt Lola.  It is over 80 years old but cooks like a king!

“Real”Southern cornbread bears little resemblance to the sweet corn muffins enjoyed by many since it is intended to be savory rather than sweet.

I believe cornbread is one of the most versatile forms of bread imaginable.

It can be served with a big pot of pinto or kidney beans that have been slowly cooked with a ham bone, hog jowl, sow belly or a piece of fat back to give it that unmistakable aroma and flavor that I remember from childhood on a cold wintry day. Or, it is equally delicious with a steaming bowl of beef stew with cubed beef, chopped carrots, diced onion and diced tomatoes like my mother used to make for me when I came home on Christmas vacation for a visit.

My Dad and his mother used an old-time term to describe great food— it’s Larapin!  You never heard of it?? Well, look it up on the internet!  It’s a term from the “old South” meaning scrumptious!!!

Cornbread is equally tasty with a bowl of domesticated (garden grown) or “wild greens”such as Poke or Lambsquarter in the springtime and the cornbread is generally used as a vehicle to soak up some of that wonderfully tasty “pot likker”, also referred to as broth. Together they give a flavor that is much bigger and better than the sum total of their separate parts—somehow they are miraculously “synergistic” to use a modern term.

Every springtime I hunt (forage) for poke  greens & lambsquarter right here in Pennsylvania just as we did when I was a kid in Oklahoma almost 70 years ago.

On the other end of the spectrum of taste, my grandpa Davis always liked his warm cornbread after a meal as dessert with Blackstrap molasses or pancake syrup poured over it and that’s still one of my all-time favorites. Matter of fact, I enjoyed some today!!

That brought back such memories & it was, indeed, larapin!!

In fact,…untold numbers of ”country folks”,  including my dear mother and older members of the family,  used to eat a simple supper comprised of nothing more than their beloved cornbread crumbled into a glass of “sweet milk” or buttermilk and accompanied by a few “green onions” (known as scallions to northern folks)  from the garden.

For the uninitiated, “sweet milk” is the term country folks used to refer to whole milk as opposed to “skim milk” or “buttermilk”– the left-overs from making butter.

When I was a kid some folks called separated or skim milk “Blue John”.

Separated milk was processed in a DeLaval Centrifugal Separator that sat in the back room of grandad’s farm house on the Porter place in Western Oklahoma and it was operated by a crank handle which turned the big bowl centrifuge on top.

Cow’s milk was poured into the bowl, the handle was quickly turned to spin the big “bowl” on top and it separated the cream from the skim milk.  The cream was poured over the morning’s oatmeal or churned by hand into butter and then used on top of our “cathead” sized biscuits or cornbread.

I still remember operating the separator and also turning grandma’s Daisey Churn handle to make a “blob” of butter which she then put into a wooden mold that compressed it and left the imprint of a pretty flower on top.  It came out a pretty block of country butter with a “flower” on top!

Our butter wouldn’t spoil at room temperature like today’s modern “butter” which MUST  be refrigerated.  Ours WAS organic & natural and wouldn’t spoil!

Cornbread will always be a part of my food tradition as long as there is warmth in my body and breath in my nostrils.

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