My Mama & Her Hot Water Cornbread
Wishing I Could Watch Her Make it Just Once More
In the South, we have many, many cooking recipes that you probably have never heard about. One of them is Hot-Water Cornbread. I'm pretty sure you haven't seen them in restaurants, either... not even in Southern restaurants. But just the same, this delicious type of bread was a staple at our home.
Now, if you look up the history of this cornbread in Wikipedia, you will see that the Native Americans are the creator of this tasty food. According to their sources, "Hot water cornbread is a mixture of cornmeal and water cooked in a skillet with cooking oil (traditionally, animal fat, such as lard, was used). The cornmeal is mixed with boiling water to make a batter. It is then placed in small portions in the hot oil, in the skillet and browned on both sides. The individual sizes generally range from two to five inches. This food item was made for many years by natives, long before European colonization. It was often dipped or covered with fresh honey."
In our kitchen, my mother learned the recipe from her mom and of course, it had been passed down, just like mitochondrial DNA...from mother to daughter and henceforth. We never used honey to cover ours, though. We ate it alongside our home grown peas, turnip greens, and freshly sliced home-grown tomatoes. For those of us that liked green onions, we had that on the table, as well. And sometimes, some fried potatoes, too.
More than likely, this recipe was necessary in the historically poor kitchens of the South. Most people had been farmers and were considered blessed to have good crops for the many mouths they had to feed. Cornbread patties just helped to fill bellies and make the rest of the food "go further." They filled you up and the juice from the peas and greens could be "sopped up." I think they call these kinds of meals, soul food these days.
I used to watch my mother make these in her cast iron frying pan. Every Southern mama has one, you know. I loved to watch her know just the right amount of each ingredient without using a measuring cup, too. But my favorite part was, after she poured the hot, boiling water into the dry ingredients and had stirred until she was sure of the perfect consistency, she would scoop up a handful and begin to fashion each patty, just so-so. To Me, it seemed like she was making love patties for her babies. Patty cake, Patty cake. Maybe that is why I loved them so much.
I've found many different kinds of recipes for hot-water bread, some use yellow meal and some use white. (Important to note, are choices between self-rising meal and plain meal, too.) Some recipes add sugar and some do not. And, sometimes, other ingredients could be added, but to me that would make it more like a hush puppy or a corn fritter, rather than the traditional white, hot water cornbread, with no sugar that my mama made for us.
My mama's recipe was basically three ingredients: 3 ingredients + a pinch of salt
2 cups Self-rising cornmeal (white)
1 cup grease (Crisco)
1 1/2 cups Boiling Water
I think a hundred people could make it for me, using a hundred different recipes, but none would compare to the way my mama's turned out...and none would taste as good, either. She had just the right touch, for sure. I hope she knew that I "saw" her labor of love. I'm sure I never told her thank you enough. But I think she knew anyways.
How I wish I could taste them, just once more!