Welcome to the 11th Lesson of When Sue Began to Cook, a cookbook in the Bettina’s Best Recipes series of cookbooks from the Twenties. Today, Sue makes cornbread. These recipes contain common ingredients, solid preparation techniques, and a whole lot of opinion to create customary 1920s food. If this is your first exposure to the series, you can start here or click the book title to jump back to Lesson 1.
For this Saturday morning cooking lesson Sue makes Cornbread. This lesson explains how to grease a baking dish with melted fat/oil before pouring the batter into it. This cornbread contains sugar, which I believe makes it a northern cornbread recipe. Throughout all the books in the series, Sue and Bettina’s location is never mentioned. However, mention of cold in the winter and warmth during the summer months makes their location Some Town in a Northern State. Somewhere.
The directions call for pouring the batter into a drip pan. Drip pans fit into the stove underneath something that could boil over. Or they fit into the icebox (refrigerator) to catch water drops from melting ice. The recipe uses less than two cups of flour/meal, so a regular 8×8 or 7×11 pan should work quite well. Really, any pan that’s a bit more than 1.5 inches deep and about the dimensions of the two pans listed should work quite well. My cornbread always goes into a Pyrex 8 x 8 inch baking dish. Thirty years later than these directions, but it works well.
In this lesson Sue mentions Aunt Lucy and Uncle John, who we first meet in A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband with Bettina’s Best Recipes. Bettina adores her aunt and uncle, so it stands that Sue would love them as well. Of course, they visit just in time for inclement weather to hit. And Uncle John still likes to tease. To learn the particulars, let’s peek at Sue’s cooking lesson notebook.
Sue’s notes on making cornbread
Aunt Lucy and Uncle John came in from the farm today to do some shopping. They always come to our house first and just as they arrived, a big blizzard arrived too. I like nothing better than a blizzard myself, but Aunt Lucy’s rheumatism was bad so Mother persuaded her to stay here all day and let Uncle John do the shopping. [This lesson takes place in February.]
“Just think, Aunt Lucy,” Mother said, “Sue and Ruth Ann are going to make cornbread today, and if you are here to lunch you can have some.” (Mother always is as enthusiastic as a girl.)
“Cornbread? That’s good news!” said Aunt Lucy. “With sour milk and soda?”
“No, with sweet milk and baking powder,” said Mother. “But it will be good just the same. You’ll see.”
“Cornbread?” said Uncle John looking out from behind the newspaper I thought he was reading. “I used to know a little girl who could make the best cornbread there ever was! Better, oh much better than yours, Susie!”
“How do you know it was better than mine, Uncle John?” I said indignantly. “You never ate mine in your whole life. And you go and talk that way about it, I won’t give you any this noon. So there!”
“This little girl’s cornbread,” Uncle John went on, just to tease me.
“What little girl? Mother?”
“No; a much littler girl than your Mother.”
At that I knew he meant Aunt Lucy, because he always jokes that way about her. “How old was she when you first ate her cornbread?” I asked him.
“Not a bit older than you,” he said. “But it isn’t only cornbread that she made. She could get the whole meal!”
“When she was only eleven?”
“Now John,” Aunt Lucy said. “Of course I couldn’t. I may have known how to make doughnuts and bread and a few common things like that, but I wouldn’t have dreamed of making Drop Cookies or Stuffed Potatoes or any of the hard things Sue can do.” (I could see Mother had been talking.)
“This noon,” I said firmly, “you will both have a chance to eat some of the best cornbread that ever was made, and if you’re very good, I may send some of it home with you. Uncle John,” I went on, “you’re going to see the day when I’m every bit as good a cook as Aunt Lucy.”
Uncle John gave me a big kiss when I made that rash statement, and Aunt Lucy said that just as soon as Spring came she wanted Ruth Ann and me to come out to the farm and do some cooking on her big “country stove.” Go? Well, I guess we will! There’s no place on earth as nice as the farm!
- ¾ cup cornmeal
- 1 ¼ cups flour
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 tsp baking powder
- 1 egg
- 1 cup milk
- 3 Tbsp lard or butter
- We put the cornmeal, white flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder all together in the flour sifter and sifted them twice. (Mother said once was enough, but both Ruth Ann and I wanted this cornbread to be specially good.) Then we each broke our egg into a bowl and beat it up with the egg beater. Then we added the milk to the egg and beat it for a minute longer. Then Mother told us to put the egg and milk right in with the cornmeal mixture and she had us stir this all up together for about three minutes.
- We were each going to bake our cornbread in a nice little square dripping pan, and of course these had to be greased so the cornbread wouldn't stick. So Mother told us to measure out the lard we were going to use, right into the dripping pan and set them in the oven for a few minutes to melt. When the lard was all melted, she had us move the pan around so that all of the bottom and sides were greasy. Then she had us pour the lard out into the cornbread batter (that means the unbaked cornbread) and stir it up again. And then we poured the batter into the pans. (You see, the pans were all greased and ready.) The batter was about an inch and a half deep in the pans. Mother says it always ought to be just about that deep to make good cornbread.
- Then we baked our cornbread in a moderate oven [350º F] for about twenty five minutes. Mother says sometimes it takes thirty minutes. It ought to be a lovely "hungry brown" [golden brown] on top when it is done. Ours was.