Biscuits require a little finesse, but cornbread is wonderfully forgiving and practically foolproof.

It’s also cheap, which is why many Southerners have made many meals off cornbread and greens, cornbread and beans, and cornbread crumbled in milk or buttermilk.

There’s no real trick to it – make the batter, melt some butter in your cast-iron skillet, pour the melted butter into the batter, and pour the batter into the skillet –but the cornmeal matters.

If you want a Southern cornbread, you need to use white cornmeal. Preferably something fine-ground, like Martha White®.

The Southern preference for white cornmeal is rooted in agriculture; a century ago, the majority of corn raised here was white. As for leaving the sugar out, it makes sense when you consider the way cornbread is eaten here – not as a separate entity, like a dinner roll, but as an accompaniment. Something to sop up potlikker or crumble into a bowl of soup.

This recipe, dubbed Our Favorite Sour Milk Cornbread by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock, makes a light, all-purpose cornbread that’s crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside. The fine crumb makes it just right for a cornbread dressing. Which we’ll be making tomorrow!

Our Favorite Sour Milk Cornbread

Adapted from Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock’s “The Gift of Southern Cooking”

White cornmeal mix contains baking powder and salt, so if that’s all you can find, omit the baking powder and salt in the recipe.

Serves 6-8

  • 1 1/2 cups fine-ground white cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 cups buttermilk or soured milk (see note)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the cornmeal, baking powder and salt. In a separate small bowl, whisk the milk and eggs. In batches, pour them over the dry ingredients, stirring vigorously to make a smooth, glossy batter.
  3. Cut the butter in pieces, and put it in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or baking pan. Slide the skillet into the oven, and heat until the butter is melted and foaming. Remove from the oven, and swirl the butter around the skillet to coat the bottom and sides.
  4. Pour the butter from the skillet into the bowl of cornbread batter, and mix well.
  5. Turn the batter into the heated skillet, and put in the oven to bake for 30-40 minutes, until cornbread is golden brown and crusty on top and pulls away from the sides of the skillet.
  6. Remove the skillet from the oven, and invert the cornbread onto a plate. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before cutting into wedges. Serve hot.

Note: If you don’t have any buttermilk, you can make a quick sour milk by stirring together 1 3/4 cups of milk, 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and 2 teaspoons of cider vinegar. Let it sit until curdled, about 10 minutes.