It’s hard to believe I’ve been writing on this little space online for almost 4 years. Many things have happened in my life since I started this blog. Of course my readers that have followed along or those that just recently found me know how special my dad was to me and how I have written a little about his loss this year.
I have been comforted by my friends and the stories they’ve written for my Food Memory series. It’s interesting with the amount of food blogs that one can find, some just resonate with you. At least that’s how it is with me.
One of the blogs I came across in the beginning of my blogging career was Heather from All Roads Lead to the Kitchen. I’m sure it was an incredible bread of hers that first compelled me to explore her blog a little. It was also her way of writing and her sweet personality that shines through in her posts. I was lucky enough to meet Heather this summer at the Food and Wine Conference. Heather was sweeter than I imagined she would be. Heather has put together a special story about her grandmother. I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I have. Sweet Brown Butter Cornbread is the special recipe she is sharing.
Sweet Brown Butter Cornbread
Here is my friend Heather and her special Food Memory story for us:
I was in 9th grade biology class when I saw my dad standing outside the classroom door. I don’t remember leaving the school, or if my mom, brother, and sisters were already in the car waiting. I don’t remember the 45 minute drive to the city that meant the beach, fireworks, blue moon ice cream, and (most of) my dad’s side of the family. I just remember peering hesitantly at my grandma; her red hair curled and too much makeup caked on her face. A face that, by the way, I barely remember wearing any makeup in life. I’d never lost anybody, really lost anybody, before.
Looking back now, I feel fortunate that although my grandma passed away when I was so young, I have lots of memories of her. Those were the days when we would actually load the whole family into the car and make the trip to one, or both, sides of the family for the holidays. Sometimes, just because.
My dad’s mom and dad were divorced before I was even born. I always felt slightly strange about that. I didn’t know anybody else whose grandparents were divorced. I don’t think it was as common back then. Even though they were divorced, they still lived in the same town. We would always visit both of them. Though I’d love to talk about my grandpa, today I’m remembering the feisty, half-Cherokee, half-Scottish woman who had rows of jewel-toned jams lining her pantry, a can of bacon grease next to the stove, and a couple of ponds down the street where we would go fishing for Bluegill.
Grandma’s Cornbread Recipe
Grandma used her cast-iron skillet to cook pretty much everything. I loved seeing it sitting on one of her burners, freshly seasoned and ready to be used. She would always put me to work, snapping some beans or peeling some potatoes while she prepared the meat; meat that she would always get from the local farmers or farm market. Her food was always good old fashioned, down home, country food. Even though she lived in Michigan, she was raised in Arkansas, and I’m betting that’s where she learned to cook.
To this day, I can’t see seasoned salt without my mouth watering in anticipation of some of her simple, yet amazing, thin seasoned pork chops. She’d fry ’em up in her cast-iron skillet while some from-scratch biscuits or cornbread were in the oven. There was a big table in her kitchen that I’d set while the kitchen was filling with the scents of sizzling pork and warm bread.
Once the table was set, she’d send me to the pantry to pick out some her homemade jam to set alongside the soft butter on the table. As I ran my finger lazily down the row, the late day sun would glint off glass, throwing rainbows onto the wall next to the jars. I’d carefully pull one out to see what was behind it. But in the end, I always chose the same one, if it wasn’t already gone: Boysenberry. It was my favorite.
When we lost my grandma, we also lost all of the recipes in her head. A smell, a site, a song, a game, a color would light that spark of nostalgia, and we’d talk about her pork chops for days. I still pull a batch of warm buttermilk biscuits out of the oven, and find myself longing for a jar of Gram’s Boysenberry jam. And I have never been able to recreate that sunny yellow, slightly sweet, perfectly grainy cornbread that lives in the rainbow-headband-wearing ten year old inside my head.
Sweet Brown Butter Cornbread
I’ve tried many times over the years. My cornbread winds up either too sweet or not sweet enough, too cakey or too crumbly, too hard or not yellow enough. And although this recipe comes close, it still isn’t what I’ve been searching for for so many years. But it’s so good, that I had to share it. The browned butter adds a beautiful nuttiness that complements the sweet bread to a tee. It leans more towards the cakey side, yet it’s fairly dense…perfect for soaking up a bit of butter when it’s pulled from the oven. Or for showing off some deep purple Boysenberry Jam.
While I’m bummed that I was too young to even think about writing down grandma’s recipes, I know that her memory will live on through the glimpse of a thin-cut pork chop. It will live on through a display of jams crafted lovingly by hand. It will live on through the process of trying to develop the perfect recipe.
Thank you, Heather. You really brought me back to your childhood reading about your grandma and her special cornbread, her pork chops and homemade sweet jam.
Heather is quite the bread baker. I found her first through an incredible bread she made (not sure exactly which one it was because there are so many!). If you like Mexican food, you have to check out her “She made-Ella hace” series. Some favorite recipes of mine from Heather are her beautiful pane bianco, decadent German chocolate cake , and these fun roasted banana and coconut popsicles.
My other Food Memory guest posters:
- Paula from Vintage Kitchen Notes and her Brown Butter Apple Cinnamon Crumb Bars
- Shulie from Food Wanderings and her Shakshuka
Sweet Brown Butter Cornbread
- 3 ounces unsalted butter divided
- 1 1/3 cups lukewarm milk
- 1/2 cup honey
- 3 large eggs at room temperature
- 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup masa harina corn flour
- 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
- 1/3 cup raw/turbinado sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- Preheat oven to 400° F. Place an 8 to 10-inch cast-iron skillet in the oven. Put 2 ounces of the butter in a small skillet over a medium-low flame and let it melt and start to turn lightly brown. As soon as it smells nutty, and before it turns dark, remove it from the heat and set aside.
- Whisk the milk, honey, and eggs together in a large measuring cup with a spout; set aside.
- Whisk flour, masa harina, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl. Make a well in the center, and pour in the wet ingredients. Beat by hand, with a wooden spoon, until just combined.
- Drizzle in the slightly cooled browned butter, and beat again until it is well distributed.
- Use a potholder to carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven; drop in the remaining 1 ounce of butter, and swirl it around to coat the bottom and sides of the pan.
- Immediately pour in the batter. Return to oven and bake until golden and cooked through, 25-30 minutes (depending on the size of pan you used – check it with a toothpick in the center, it should come out clean).
- Serve warm, slathered with Boysenberry Jam, alongside Gram’s Seasoned Chops and green beans. Of course, this is also good with plain butter, honey butter, or cinnamon-honey butter.