Early American Hotbread: the best cornbread recipe ever

This is my adaptation of a recipe from the classic Cooking with Wholegrains, by Vrest and Mildred Ellen Orton, originally published in 1947. A Google search only revealed one mutilated version of this on the interwebs, so I thought I’d do my part for God and country and post it myself. This serves four to six people, goes great with chile or baked beans, only takes a half hour to make, and is, as the title suggests, the best cornbread recipe of all time. As one proof of my claim: You know how regular cornbread is kind of gross to save and eat for leftovers? Not this stuff. It’s almost as good the second time around!

EARLY AMERICAN HOTBREAD

Preheat oven or toaster oven (saves electricity!) to 425° F. Grease a nine-inch-square baking pan, ideally with lard.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the bejeesus out of one large egg. Whisk in one cup milk and two tablespoons maple syrup or honey (but really, you want maple syrup. American maple syrup, not that inferior Canadian stuff).

Sift in one cup whole wheat flour, ¾ cup corn meal (either the regular stuff or masa de harina, e.g. Maseca brand, for an even earlier American flavor), and one tablespoon baking powder. Add one teaspoon salt and stir forcefully with whisk or spoon until complete and harmonious integration is achieved. Then mix in three tablespoons of oil or melted lard with as few strokes as possible. (It’s all in the wrist.)

Spoon into the waiting pan and smoosh and smooth it until it’s flat as Kansas, then bake it for twenty minutes.

It can be cut and served immediately after removal from the oven. A good, flat metal spatula does wonders for removing hot cornbread from the pan.

*

Leftovers tip: Cut a piece of cold cornbread in half, heap a spoonful of hot salsa on each half, top with a slice of cheddar or jack cheese, and heat it in the toaster oven until the cheese is all melted and bubbly.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

24 Comments


    1. Oh, right. And translate this into metric, too, I suppose. Let me know if you do.

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  1. very much like my Granny used to make.. thanks Dave, and happy 4th

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  2. At last. A meaningful post for the Fourth. Thanks, Dave.

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  3. PS. Thanks to global warming, American maple syrup is an endangered species.

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    1. Maybe so, but we get all our maple syrup locally, from Central Pennsylvania sugar bushes.

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  4. Wow that’s some yankee cornbread. Flour AND a sweetener, which are both no-nos for cornbread in the south.

    Honestly, I like a sweet cornbread, but everyone else around here yells at me when I say that.

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    1. Karen, if you post your best cornbread recipe, I’d be happy to update this post to link to it. Because cultural diversity is what this country is all about!

      You’re right about the Yankeeism, of course. The Ortons were classic Vermont wackoes.

      Of course, the earliest American cornbread would’ve been some sort of flatbread or tortilla, but never mind that.

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  5. Cornbread is the best way to celebrate the fourth of July. Beats the heck out of firecrackers and sparklers. I used to make a cornbread without any sweetener for an old family friend who couldn’t have sugars or honey. He loved it plain, but I admit I used a cup of flour with the cornmeal. I plead ignorance to such regional diversity. Never used lard, though. It was verboten in my neck of the woods.

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    1. I’ve never used lard myself, but i thought I’d throw it in there for those who crave that Americana authenticity. Better for you I’m sure than melted shortening, which is what the Ortons advice. I must admit I use (whispers so the Canadians won’t overhear and crow about it) Canola oil.

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  6. That’s far out, Dave. Because I just packed my copy of that cookbook. It had been hidden behind something else and when I found it on the shelf I said, aha, that’s one I definitely want to take with me.

    My favorite cornbread recipe, though, is from The Vegetarian Epicure, Book I, not quite as vintage as the Orton’s classic, but getting there. I’ll send it to you, along with a recipe for Indian pudding, for true New England cornmeal use.

    The Vermont Country Store Catalog was a fixture in our house, growing up, and the first time I went there for real, I think the Ortons were still running it.

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    1. Ha! I figured you’d be an Orton devotee, too.

      Speaking of New England recipes, Mom used to make Boston baked beans a lot when I was a kid, but I must admit I was never terribly fond of it. Today we had a sweet baked bean — or actually, crockpotted bean — recipe that she whipped up by combining two recipes in her files. It was good. (Rounding out the picnic-ish meal: deviled eggs, dutch cucumbers, watermelon and ice cream.)

      I guess clam chowder would have to be my favorite New England dish.

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  7. When my mom made a big pan of corn bread, we used to wrap the leftovers up in a paper towel and hide them under the bed for a midnight snack. Mmmm.

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  8. Chiming in with a nice recipe for Texas-style skillet cornbread.

    Go to page 317 (or search using “cornbread”) here:
    http://books.google.com/books?id=nKtVIw8cXX8C

    My copy of this cookbook has a broken spine, dog-eared corners, and a crumpled bottom from when I’d dropped it into the sink by accident — in other words, it’s much-used and well-worn because the recipes are that darn good.

    Hope all y’all had a great 4th! :-)

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    1. Thanks, Lori! That sounds like a lot of our cookbooks. Fortunately, our edition of Cooking with Wholegrains is hardcover, so it’s actually still intact, in contrast to most of the others. For some reason I rarely remember to look for recipes online, either. I guess the kitchen is a bastion of tradition.

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  9. Kia ora Dave,
    I am tempted to bring along the ingredients and try this up in the mountains over a wood stove. Being winter here it would certainly be a good excuse to stay in the warm hut!
    Cheers,
    Robb

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    1. If you can figure out how to make this on top of a stove, you’re a better cook than me! I’d recomment a pan bread instead.

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  10. I’ll make this when I’m back home because I love cornbread. (I love cornmeal cakes even more.) It looks like it has a good pedigree, but it will be tough to beat this, which I made last Christmas after it was posted. (I doubled the chilies and onions, FWIW.)

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    1. That’s not a bread, that’s a meal! I do like that kind of cornbread too, though, and I’ve been looking for a better recipe for it. Thanks. I will try this.

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    2. It turns out there are quite a lot of best cornbread recipes out there. Kind of like Pentecostal churches — everyone thinks they know the one true way, but they’re all tragically mistaken (except for me).

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  11. Hey Dave, sorry, I forgot to come back here! I am not really a big cornbread afficionado, but I will give you my mother’s recipe if I can find it. I really only like it with lots of butter and while eating soup. But I’m not the typical southerner in that regard!

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    1. Karen, is there any regard in which you might be considered a typical Southerner?

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