"The Cornbread Book: a love story with recipes” by Jeremy Jackson

144 pages; Hardcover

Morrow Cookbooks; 1st edition (March 25, 2003)

Reviewed by Laryn Ivy for Good Cooking, Spring/Summer 2004

Historically, cornmeal was easier to come by than flour, and also cheaper, so many Americans in all regions of the country subsisted on breads that contained no flour.
Consider the Cornbread Book further evidence of the fact that you can’t judge a book from its cover. The cover, with a piece of pale yellow cornbread topped with a luscious slab of melting butter, is great. The book is not. In striving for a funny, pithy and casual tone, the author ends up going too far and comes across as hyperactive and to be honest, it gets old quickly. For example, the acknowledgments start off with “First I want to thank me...” and he proceeds to spend a full paragraph telling the reader just how hard it was to have to write this book and how it consumed his life. Maybe so, but who forced him to write the book? One of the head notes says “Who do I think I am? How did I come up with such an idea?” To have such an attitude, the recipes should be flawless, and unfortunately, they fall far short of that. 

While the author clearly has spent a great deal of time experimenting with various cornbread recipes, cooking techniques and relevant equipment, the three sample recipes simply didn’t work. 

The Buttermilk Cornbread is advertised as moist and full flavored. After following the instructions precisely, the end result was disappointingly dry and flavorless. Instead of using a cast iron pan, the author suggested putting a metal pan in a hot oven with oil to heat up and then adding the batter to the hot pan to “fry” the crust of the cornbread. While the bread itself resembled sawdust, the crust was perfectly golden browned, and the technique is worth replicating with other recipes. 

The Drop Biscuits were also not as described. The dough was thick and sludgy, and just didn’t seem right. So the first effort ended up in the trash can even before baking. The second effort turned out exactly the same. The baked biscuits met a similar fate. After the baking time recommended in the recipe, they remained thick and sludgy, so they were baked for additional time. They firmed up a little bit, but not enough to resemble biscuits or dumplings, and they had a doughy, heavy flavor. Four taste testers took one bite each and threw the rest of the biscuit in the waste basket. Enough said? 

The Uppity Cornmeal Crepes sounded interesting, and any dessert is usually good dessert from this writer’s perspective. The flavor was fine – not exceptional, but certainly better than the other two recipes. However, it was hard to imagine an instance in which these dessert crepes would be a preferable substitute for traditional crepes, and it doesn’t seem worth repeating. 

The author is clearly interested in testing cooking techniques and methods, and he does have some interesting tips and suggestions. The recipes however, appear to have been put into the book without much testing. If you have a good cornbread recipe that you’ve used in the past, stick with it and skip this book.

Ozark Cornbread

Makes 9 Pieces

Historically, cornmeal was easier to come by than flour, and also cheaper, so many Americans in all regions of the country subsisted on breads that contained no flour. If you can get fresh, whole-grain cornmeal, this cornbread is the one to make. It's the cornbread I grew up on, which is perhaps why I grew up to be so manly and healthy. My sisters and I prized the crisp corner pieces.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons plus ¼ cup canola oil
1 2/3 cups cornmeal (preferably whole-grain)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 large egg 

Instructions
1. Preheat your oven to 400°F. Put the 2 tablespoons canola oil in an 8 x 8- or 9 x 9-inch baking pan and put the pan in the oven to heat.
2. Stir together the cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Add the milk, egg, and the ¼ cup oil and stir until just combined. There should still be small lumps in the batter.
3. Remove the hot pan from the oven, pour the batter into it, then shake it carefully to spread the batter into the corners. Bake for 22 to 28 minutes, or until firm and just beginning to brown.