Recipe Time: Hot Water Cornbread

We were just talking about how much better hushpuppies are than fritters.  The secret is the inclusion, along with the flour, of half or more corn meal in the hushpuppies.

A step beyond the hushpuppy is hot water cornbread.  There is no flour at all in hot water cornbread, and no baking soda.  It is unleavened, and, I guess, not technically bread.  It is delicious.

I can’t remember finding hot water cornbread in a restaurant.  It may have been on the buffet at Bill’s in Wilson, North Carolina, before their fall from grace.  Everything under the sun was on that buffet, including a whole hog.  I often had hot water cornbread at home when I was growing up.  Dear (aka Betty Tanner) used to pan fry it when we had all-vegetable meals in the hot summer months in Birmingham, back before we had air conditioning (which we didn’t get until I left for college, nit that I’m bitter).  We’d have mustard greens and green beans and field peas, and sliced tomatoes with onions and cucumbers, dressed with a little vinegar.  And hot water cornbread.  That, friends, is a great meal any time of the year.

There are just three essential ingredients in hot water cornbread: cornmeal, salt, and boiling water.  It is best to add some bacon grease for flavor.  It helps a lot: a little pork fat goes a long way.  The basic ratio is for every cup of cornmeal, use a teaspoon or so of salt, a tablespoon of bacon grease, and maybe 3/4 cup of boiling water. Yes, boiling.  You also need enough bacon grease or vegetable shortening to cover the frying pan to a depth of a half inch.

Here’s what you do —

Combine the cornmeal, salt, and, okay, if you must, a pinch of sugar in a mixing bowl.  Add the boiling water and bacon grease; stir until the bacon grease melts.  Heat the cooking fat to 375 degrees.  Shape a heaping tablespoon or so of the cornmeal mixture into a disk.  The thicker the disk, the lighter the cornbread will be, and the flatter, the crisper.  Place each disk in the hot oil — carefully, and without crowding the pan — and fry until the disks are golden brown.  You’ll need to turn each disk once, of course.  When the disks are done, set them on paper towels to drain.  Then run them to the table and eat ’em up.


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