Southerners are mighty particular about their cornbread. If someone ever asks you if you like it sweet or a little salty, play it safe and take a middle of the road answer. Trust us. There’s actually a pretty deep divide between those who like their cornbread sweet and those who prefer it a little more on the savory side.
However, it turns out as much as we love sweet cornbread – especially with honey butter – it may be more of a modern twist on this favorite bread of the British colonists with whom it seems to have originated.
According to culinary historian Michael Twitty, breads baked up with cornmeal by those first colonists were not created as a sweet nor were they sweetened.
So how do you achieve the more authentic savory version of this Southern staple? Well, after a little internet sleuthing, we’ve found there’s a secret – or perhaps not-so-secret — ingredient that makes savory Southern cornbread absolutely mouthwatering. What is it?
The secret ingredient to make your cornbread smoky and tasty is bacon drippings. What could be more Southern? Bacon drippings actually do a few things: they made the bottom crust just a little crispier, and if you happen to be going super traditional and using a cast iron skillet, the drippings will keep the cornbread from sticking.
And, of course, any time you add bacon’s delectable flavor to a dish, it greatly increases its umami level.
This savory type of cornbread tends to be more crumbly and just less cake-like overall in its taste and appearance. It is quite satisfying to both your taste buds and your olfactory – a win-win.
It’s easy to do, too: just fry up some bacon in your cast iron pan, and leave a little bit of the drippings in the pan for when you’re ready to cook your cornbread. And because we are huge fans of the phrase, “Waste not, want not,” take the remaining bacon drippings and store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.
Bottom line? If you want to up your cornbread game and cook it like a Southern pro, don’t forget the bacon drippings… but it can get even better.
You don’t have to stop with just the drippings. You can also chop up some of that crispy, crunchy bacon and add it right to your cornbread batter.
The fried bacon in the batter will add both texture and a little extra flavor to the cornbread. Not to mention, the addition of the chopped up bacon will leave all of those salivating bacon lovers satiated.
While the South might be divided over sweet and savory cornbread, Southerners are united in the belief they know how to make cornbread and everyone else does not.
That might be true, but let’s give credit where it’s due: as Southern Living observes, Native Americans were making and eating cornbread long before U.S. Southerners, who imitated their version.
Honestly, while everyone else is arguing over ingredients that make cornbread authentic and delicious and who makes it best, many of us just want to eat it. At the end of the day, cornbread’s appeal is how versatile it can be, offering limitless possibilities to personalize and make this dish your own.
Whether you use bacon, cheese, jalapenos, apples, applesauce, garlic, or even honey to up your game, your cornbread should reflect your or your family’s preferences. So, don’t be shy about adding what you like to whatever classic cornbread recipe you might be using.
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