I’ve been waking up to a black and white world this week. Pre-dawn, frozen fog hovers and drifts in front of my headlights like pale will-o’-the-wisps. I imagine they want to lure me off the road–into the moors–because isn’t that what they do? Even after the sun comes up, there is an absence of color, the frost-bleached leaves and grass monochrome. It is strangely silent. Inside, with the furnace purring, I sense that I am within a fragile bubble of warmth and light, with the thinnest of membranes holding back the cold. The occasional shiver down the back of my neck reminds me of that tension.
This is the time of year for steamy soups and warm, hearty, unabashedly filling meals. When I was growing up, the winters were so much colder–all snow shovels and ice, frozen mittens and steamy breath, and stamping feet inside the back door before pulling off heavy boots. My mother didn’t cook fancy meals, but rather the kind of simple, plentiful food that warmed the kitchen and filled kid’s cold, growly bellies, night after night.
One of her winter standbys was a square pan of cornbread. Whisked from the oven, the golden top was lifted and slightly cracked in a distinctive square, like clerestory windows rising from a building. She cut it into tall, hot squares which we would split and fill with butter, to accompany bowls of brothy beans. The salty butter and just slightly sweet cornbread melded into a very satisfying whole. I could eat piece after piece. And if a few chunks fell into the bowl of beans, all the better.
Inevitably, there are things you lose along the way in life–people and places and states of mind you cannot return to that you miss occasionally or dreadfully or with all your heart. But this is one of the things I love so much about food. These little gifts–a flavor, a scent, a memory, that you can return to over and over, and they are just as vivid and just as sweet as they ever were.
I tend to use a coarser cornmeal than my mother did, resulting in a slightly denser cornbread with a bit more texture. But it is just as satisfying as the light, sweet cornbread I remember. Either way, serve it alongside a bowl of spicy chili, chicken soup, or slathered with butter and drizzled with honey for breakfast.
(adapted from a really old Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook)
- 1 cup yellow corn meal
- 1 cup flour
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 4 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup milk
- 1/3 cup oil
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch square pan.
Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Add eggs, milk and oil. Beat just until smooth. Do not overmix. Pour into pan. Cook 20 to 22 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.