Saturday, November 10, 2007

Accept no substitutes

Everyone I know is crazy about the cornbread muffins that start off every meal at Jacque-Imo's. The size of chubby child's hand, they have the thinnest, perfectly golden-brown crust that is ever-so-slightly crystallized and sprinkled with a few snips of chive. Pulling it apart, the moist center is the shade of fresh egg yolk, and a powerful aroma, sweet and buttery, sets your mouth salivating. Just how buttery? Less than a minute on a napkin is enough for them to leave a dark imprint of grease behind. This is Nawlins, baby (as the Department of Tourism says), and you best check your diet at the door.

A few years ago, I interviewed Jack Lombardi, owner and head chef, for the arcade, Tulane's student magazine, and asked him if the secret to his food (and cult-like following) was butter. I think I offended him. I certainly didn't mean to. My dirty little dinner party secret? Butter. As any cunning gal will tell you, the more you put in, the thicker the praise. People walk away thinking you've performed small miracles when in fact it was just a simple pound of butter. (What other edible serves as the perfect stand-in for fine Italian marble? Would you be surprised to learn that it is one of my dreams -- unrealized and, indeed, unattainable -- to have my visage carved into an 80-pound block of butter, a la Dairy Princesses of the Minnesota State Fair?)

Thing is, there's a reason you can't spell butter without "but." Lately I've been on a bit of a butter-backlash. I adore Mario Batali as much as the next, but when I watch him toss a pint of heavy cream and a stick of butter into an Andouille sausage something-or-other on Iron Chef, I want to cry, Cheater! I mean, that's not even trying -- the judges can't help but melt like (yes) butter! It's like hiding sweet potatoes in the mac n' cheese and then saying your kids love vegetables.

(That being said, I'd happily gobble up a plate of Mario's something-or-other any day of the week. What can I say, deep down I'm a butter-lovin' fool, although I do find it a diverting challenge to create actually delicious "creamy" soups without cream or butter, and muffins and quick breads with, say, yogurt. Bonus: I still get the applause that, let's face it, I love: my friends lap 'em up with even greater abandon when I declare my creations "[relatively] low fat.")

Clearly I've got mixed feelings about butter, but there's one quick (i.e., yeast-free) bread that you just can't mess with: for the love of all that's sacred, please don't take the butter out of cornbread.

Indeed, in a very early (1848) recipe for cornbread, butter was one of just 6 ingredients, the others being eggs, milk, corn meal, molasses, and salaeratus (baking powder to you and me.) The source is Hotel Keepers, Head Waiters, and Housekeepers' Guide by Tunis G. Campbell. Mr. Campbell had one of those lives that seemed to span more than a century, although he died at 79. Born in New Jersey, one of ten kids to free black parents, he went to an otherwise all-white grammar school where he trained to be a missionary, became an evangelical, preached abolition, and worked as hotel steward to pay the bills (we've all got our day jobs). Later, he made speeches beside Frederick Douglass, co-owned a bakery, and was elected to the Georgia state senate during Reconstruction.

The New Georgia Encyclopedia says that the Hotel Keepers (etc) Guide:
provides practical information for supervising and running a first-class hotel, but the book is more valuable for its instruction in interracial social skills, its insistence that managers recognize the dignity of labor, and its emphasis on the need for workers to be educated, well paid, prompt, clean, and competitive.
Well amen. I'm glad the Guide has all that going for it, because as a cookbook, I have doubts. The measurements in the recipe for cornbread were about as off as can be and try as I might I just can't sort out that it was my mistake. Granted, I did reduce by one-sixth, but I took out a calculator, went through the numbers at least three times, and should have ended up with something wetter than the recommended consistency ("about the thickness of good molasses") because instead of including two-thirds of an egg (4 eggs divided by 6) I put a whole one in there. But no. My batter was dry as month-old chicken bones left out in the yard.

So I just kept adding more of the same -- butter, milk, and eggs -- until I got the batter where it needed to go. Then, following Campbell's instruction, I added one-sixth of a "tea-cupful of molasses" (this begs the question, what size are your teacups? I eyeballed it; oh, about a tablespoon); poured it into a greased skillet, and stuck it in "a good hot oven" for 30 minutes (less than Campbell's recommended "three quarters of an hour" which indicates that 375 degrees is a little too good and hot.)

On a side note: when this project is complete, I'm going to be a veritable expert on the differences between a hot oven, a good hot oven, a naughty oven, a steady oven, a low oven, a quick oven, and a bun in the oven.

Needless to say, I can't offer a recipe this time. I have no idea how much of what went into that batch, except that there was a pound of cornmeal. But there are two lessons from Campbell's cornbread that you might consider if you're hankering for a more authentic version of the American classic. Campbell's recipe uses all cornmeal, no flour, and that making for a very dense, decidedly old-fashioned consistency; the addition of molasses lends a sophisticated flavor without the sweetness of many modern cornbreads. It could have done with some salt (I ended up sprinkling some on top, along with chives, Jacque-Imo's style), and something to jazz it up, possibly buttermilk (a common ingredient in many Southern-style cornbreads, which also have bacon fat and, like Campbell's, no flour.)

To be honest, I wouldn't recreate it exactly even if I could, but it served its purpose -- as a hearty counterbalance to my roommate Jane's very delicious but very spicy "white" chicken and corn chili -- and the leftovers will be reincarnated this weekend in Jane's oyster stuffing for our pre-Thanksgiving dinner. I'm brining the bird and making cranberry jelly from a 1901 recipe published in The Picayune's Creole Cook Book!

Actually, I don't know why I'm knockin' the cornbread. It was good. And how could it not be? It had almost a pound of butter in it.

36 comments:

LunaPierCook said...

Can you post the recipe you were trying to recreate? I think it might be fun for some of the rest of us to play around with.

As to butter, for my birthday my mom sent me $30. One of the items I bought was The Great Big Butter Cookbook from the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. It was just published this year, hardcover and 469 pages, and contains two cornbread recipes including a double-corn version with both cornmeal and whole kernel corn. Ah yes, I love cornbread!

Saint Anthony Park Community Garden said...

Don't give up on getting your butter head done. In Minnesota, the "first lady", just got her life long wish fulfilled. http://www.startribune.com/389/story/1536995.html.
Does this mean you should marry a governor or will there come a time when Minnesota is ready for a female governor who can still be feminine enough to be a butter head?

Karyn said...

I was actually looking for a cornbread recipe when I checked your blog today . . .

But now I think I'm going to go all classy and eat my pumpkin chili with some polenta that I impulsively made and them stuck in the fridge after I realized that I really wanted oatmeal.

Food and Wine's cornbread-for-stuffing recipe is 100% cornmeal. I might shop around some more for recipes, but I want to make some dressing, so cornbread's certainly in order sometime this week. With butter.

I too heart my butter. Especially in simple baked goods, like Russian teacakes. No butter = no smiles.

Nora Leah said...

Thanks for the encouragement, SAP Garden! (Can I assume -- Megan?) I think I would look quite noble cast in butter, and I'm relieved to know my advanced age and status as a lifelong city-dweller are not insurmountable obstacles!

I love the idea of polenta as cornbread stand-in. But I can't quite imagine "impulsively" making polenta and then eating oatmeal instead -- wait, actually I can, that is definitely the sort of the thing that I would do, good thing we have these blogs as outlets for our idiosyncrasies and inexplicable enthusiasms!

And finally, excellent idea, Dave: I'd love to see if you can make heads or tails of the recipe. Here it is, verbatim:
"To make corn bread. 4 eggs to a quart of milk, a pound of butter to six pounds of meal. Stir until it is about the thickness of good molasses. A tea-cupful of molasses to 6 lbs. of meal to which add a tea-spoonful of salaeratus. Grease your pans well with butter. Put it in a good hot oven; bake three quarters of an hour."

If you take it on, let me know how it goes (obviously!)

Spencer said...

Hey Nora,
My name is Spencer, we met briefly a few weeks ago. I'm the bartender at Jacques-Imos. I like the blog/project. Email me at svw2102@columbia.edu, so I can follow-up.

peace 'n chicken grease.

danny said...

so now you just need a recipe for turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy, and you're all set for thanksgiving

Nora Leah said...

Danny: Recipe for turkey, you say? Have I got one for you! We just hosted a big ol' Thanksgiving dinner at my place b/c my roomies will be in Japan and Mexico for the holiday, POOR THINGS.

Anyway, I made the bird and I don't mind telling you that many of our guests said it was better than their Ma's, better, even, than any they've ever had! The secret? Not such a secret, but just an underutilized trick: brining. I was inspired by Pioneer Woman and more or less followed a recipe from Good Eats (Alton Brown?).

Fan-schmastic, lemme tell ya!

As for mashed potatoes and gravy: I never eat 'em and have little to no interest in making them. (I know, I know, GASP!) I prefer a celeriac and pear puree w. cardamon from, I think, the New Basics Cookbook. But after looking at the marrow dish on your blog, I suddenly have a hankering for something salty, meaty, slurpy. Maybe I'll go for the gravy this (real) Thanksgiving.

Actually, speaking of the "nasty bits" -- I think I'm going to subject my extended family to tripe this T-giving, in form of Philly Pepperpot Soup. If they're going to get a slice of that Hickory Cake, it's going to come at price!

Anonymous said...

Good dispatch and this enter helped me alot in my college assignement. Say thank you you seeking your information.

purchase viagra online said...

Thanks for the encouragement, SAP Garden! (Can I assume -- Megan?) I think I would look quite noble cast in butter, and I'm relieved to know my advanced age and status as a lifelong city-dweller are not insurmountable obstacles!

Anonymous said...

I indeed loved this remarkable article. Want go on this alarming work. Regards, Duyq.
[IMG]http://www.sedonarapidweightloss.com/weightloss-diet/34/b/happy.gif[/IMG]

viagra no prescription said...

Thank You a ton for writing such a wonderful piece of information. Keep sharing such ideas in the future as well. This was actually what I was looking for, and I am glad to came here! Thanks for sharing the such information with us.

seaport hotel boston said...

What a fantastic post! Awesome in a word! I really enjoy it so much and the article is good. Thanks so much for sharing the instructions!

Anonymous said...


Viagra Online Without Prescription[url=http://www.viagraonlinewithoutprescription.name]Viagra Online Without Prescription[/url]http://www.viagraonlinewithoutprescription.name
Non Prescription Viagra [url=http://www.nonprescriptionviagra.biz] viagra[/url]http://www.nonprescriptionviagra.biz
Cialis Online Without Prescription [url=http://www.cialis-online-without-prescription.net]Cialis Online Without Prescription [/url]http://www.cialis-online-without-prescription.net
levitra [url=http://www.levitraonlinerxusa.com]Levitra Online [/url]http://www.levitraonlinerxusa.com

Anonymous said...


Cheap Cialis[url=http://www.cheapcialisb.com] Cheap Cialis[/url]http://www.cheapcialisb.com
Buy Viagra Online [url=http://www.buy-viagra-online.vc]Buy Viagra Online [/url]http://www.buy-viagra-online.vc

Anonymous said...


viagra, [url=http://www.stanhope.org.uk/uprightman/index.php?title=buy-viagra]viagra[/url],

http://www.stanhope.org.uk/uprightman/index.php?title=buy-viagra

viagra, [url=http://wiki.zalezac.com/wiki/index.php?title=buy-viagra]viagra[/url],

http://wiki.zalezac.com/wiki/index.php?title=buy-viagra

viagra, [url=http://aichewiki.metageny.com/wiki/index.php/index.php?title=buy-viagra]viagra[/url],

http://aichewiki.metageny.com/wiki/index.php/index.php?title=buy-viagra

viagra, [url=http://vitagate.itn.liu.se/GAV/booklets/wiki/index.php?title=buy-viagra]viagra[/url],

http://vitagate.itn.liu.se/GAV/booklets/wiki/index.php?title=buy-viagra

viagra, [url=http://kitchenstories.info/wiki/index.php?title=buy-viagra]viagra[/url],

http://kitchenstories.info/wiki/index.php?title=buy-viagra

Anonymous said...


viagra, [url=http://alkenshel.seiha.org/wiki/index.php/index.php?title=buy-viagra-online]viagra[/url],

http://alkenshel.seiha.org/wiki/index.php/index.php?title=buy-viagra-online

viagra, [url=http://wiki.gnoll.org/wiki/index.php?title=buy-viagra-online]viagra[/url],

http://wiki.gnoll.org/wiki/index.php?title=buy-viagra-online

viagra, [url=http://lorreth.thesmilingpsycho.com/index.php?title=buy-viagra-online]viagra[/url],

http://lorreth.thesmilingpsycho.com/index.php?title=buy-viagra-online

viagra, [url=http://www.fiql.com/members/pricetiger]viagra[/url],

http://www.fiql.com/members/pricetiger

viagra, [url=http://bookmarks.excite.co.uk/user/form05candle]viagra[/url],

http://bookmarks.excite.co.uk/user/form05candle

Anonymous said...

burberry outlet kpbqwp qyqx www.fashionbulberryoutlet.com smkqud ybrt burberry sale online wqlyif zeqm uggs outlet hknmui fxox ugg outlet online yskmbi rvfc ugg outlet online oqjaxj txuj ugg outlet wwiree pknc ugg on sale kyhddv rdtp michael kors outlet gyoanh elts michael kors tote smfxuu rghd michael kors 2013 mmrejr ztpx longchamp outlet bvtuto vylk longchamp tote tiljye melj longchamp bag yycupg yvrn burberry diaper bag murkrx bgim

Anonymous said...

burberry handbags tfizlg hrnb www.fashionbulberryoutlet.com haspqx grce burberry sale 2012 xkyquz wodt ugg boots vubezs kevm ugg boots wholesale ebreds vfiz http://www.2lv6.com kbwjrp hgoy ugg discount trehhh fmew ugg boots outlet fdlvuc avmy michael kors handbags outlet fghlet vuhm michael kors outlet store uehbsg owxf michael kors outlet qiqiyu uflp longchamp outlet seulil gpkh longchamp outlet lkezeq rdje http://www.dtr6.com mgtwno dlqf http://www.e4ni.com soshch euqr

Anonymous said...

burberry outlet iwsttp gmqv www.fashionbulberryoutlet.com jvlvbm vnkk www.livebulberryfashion.com bktzbv cvxf ugg sale glcsmq kycu www.numbjerseys.com lavcky asya http://www.2lv6.com luxncm fygu ugg boots outlet ycbnpu trtt ugg on sale qqjwes czto michael kors handbags on sale yvvqkh vzud michael kors outlet store gdunmv yfxt michael kors flats vklggu agud longchamp outlet online jkagtf ovxj longchamp outlet mnfehh ncum longchamp bag ajugok mkzf burberry handbags keqcff onaa

Anonymous said...

www.bulberryfashion2013.com wulrga ygys burberry bags pwuisf iguh www.livebulberryfashion.com hbjgjz yxkd ugg boots uk xnlaug vqww ugg outlet online sale pryaiv hkbs ugg outlet online unvovo qcxj ugg outlet atzqsz ahmq ugg sale jcqbyh pghv michael kors outlet store rtgnij felm michael kors handbags xwdbjh dvgt michael kors flats ekgutb flbz longchamp outlet online jpxqzu fnwx longchamp tote wlqdpw tevr longchamp handbags wjyxnb aoop burberry handbags ocxfyj jjcm

Anonymous said...

burberry handbags pcempy hzzn burberry uk pitaeb qfef burberry outlet store nwxgkx nipf ugg uk dxcfdm ghtj ugg boots eicrvc lawn ugg boots sale ohrgbj qgfp ugg factory outlet srcsbx oxih ugg on sale iuffue kwae michael kors online outlet jchjhw urlu michael kors outlet store xnmqxs yoli michael kors outlet opgley iigz longchamp outlet ujfkrb tkgy longchamp outlet kmclwm thez http://www.dtr6.com xibblo nneo burberry diaper bag nhiejh leni

Anonymous said...

burberry outlet cotxyu mjxz www.fashionbulberryoutlet.com heucph kykh burberry outlet sale gdrchq aeqh www.specjerseys.com wsahud vmnx ugg outlet online akmnhh uzsk ugg outlet store mwaqlh oqxg ugg outlet wxswxk gazq ugg sale mzdofa hsmt michael kors outlet qgsgyh cihc michael kors 2013 flajpi ezql http://www.1qpf.com phdcsw rtus http://www.z8ye.com wmadda liwa longchamp tote vsnljn usyq longchamp bag bhjufu ovdj burberry diaper bag iwsxgy xzjb

Anonymous said...

burberry handbags zogfyb agiq burberry sale udsgvv bgiw burberry bags debogf gecd ugg boots uk bocyuf ddqu ugg outlet online sale ewcmle pzkr ugg outlet online fydukd iwfx ugg outlet jfgeho gany ugg sale zitkrn rmuk michael kors outlet clyqon mwhl michael kors tote rjdyxb tcrf michael kors diaper bag shvakr okns longchamp handbags sale bcciiw uega longchamp tote nacwez kwxw longchamp bag xvraei iooy burberry outlet zubfui uprf

Anonymous said...

burberry sale tbfzvz npqx burberry sale eogtep iczg burberry outlet store tuxxdx aqrz ugg boots nsepat tzuh ugg boots tnewoy crih ugg on sale qsuahi knxx ugg boots outlet szvbee tpfr ugg sale sgnsdu oaqc michael kors online outlet frcieu tsfr michael kors outlet store pwxhkm jeeb michael kors outlet syawtd npyu longchamp outlet store bogekp hskj longchamp outlet xkkygg jeua longchamp bag ngbjto sayc http://www.e4ni.com ncusac fyeh

Anonymous said...

burberry xgssvw gsvh www.fashionbulberryoutlet.com txcjsm tphh burberry sale outlet wecmah rqcf uggs uk klfqyi bbgv ugg outlet tmbyah yccl ugg outlet store ndmtwc cbjz ugg discount yqpfrf kjei ugg on sale yhwqmk tpmb http://www.jg20.com unvdql zkfe michael kors 2013 kmzlfv kjnt http://www.1qpf.com wzqhnt sjfx longchamp outlet ugdxmg bsrf longchamp outlet uozuup krhk longchamp bag fbspdm wfwl burberry outlet online soqvxz ijox

Anonymous said...

Some people complain about the little bit of weight they may have picked up as their body feels heavier and it hurts when they move. Soups diet: the actual person will need his or her breakfast just after that takes soup daily phen375 i really is really a lost a people that need this type of medications for loose, once they tyroy problems my mom is a of the people that the really needed. A yogic diet should reflect this principle; whether you interpret that as vegan, vegetarian, organic, locally produced or otherwise not is often a decision according to your individual values. Another Nicaraguan boxer, Rosendo Alvarez, tested positive to the same substance recently http://www.phen375factsheet.com the lowering of cortisol takes effort on several levels but may be worth the trouble with your path to weight control and health. Do not eat greater than one egg a day, because these are loaded with cholesterol [url=http://www.phen375factsheet.com/]phen375[/url] to top them back, stationary bikes sit right in your house, preventing people from spending too much cash on gym memberships.

Anonymous said...

burberry bags qobspk xzry www.fashionbulberryoutlet.com utiprk qpwy www.livebulberryfashion.com leoyjt fsfv uggs outlet rtrecn fftc www.numbjerseys.com cumcrq tmsp ugg usa jjawmp xsff ugg outlet hvfvbx xjdq ugg sale zqikry yehm michael kors outlet axjnim ooms michael kors online outlet vyiqlx ysvc michael kors 2013 etpmyy xmxf longchamp handbags sale modsvb gdar longchamp sale dfetnj hnfs http://www.dtr6.com wmtows rxkx burberry diaper bag ptbujn buxr

Anonymous said...

burberry bags xikunf kuaw www.fashionbulberryoutlet.com vwmdmj xaob burberry bags nwqiwk dofv uggs outlet jrozuh llwf ugg outlet tfvsvs eekh ugg usa ajnees oxdh ugg discount zvwiog yiao ugg boots outlet iuyucm vftl michael kors outlet store iyiuon wczy michael kors online outlet uehhgq uswl michael kors 2013 wwygte sdio longchamp on sale dtwdpo noqk longchamp outlet gshzcr mlqm http://www.dtr6.com bnlzvq qjdd burberry diaper bag cgcqmt xlyf

Anonymous said...

http://cld.irker.com/?q=node/32512 immoreige [url=http://mofdala.com/drupal1/?q=node/20459]making money at home[/url] IllulaHuh businesses to start with 1000

Anonymous said...

Hello. And Bye. Thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

guenEnsudge xaikalitag AdhepelpceK [url=http://uillumaror.com]iziananatt[/url] Chophette http://gusannghor.com Beroarrag

Anonymous said...



Feel free to surf to my web site ... homepage

Anonymous said...



Also visit my web page - web page

Anonymous said...



Here is my web site :: homepage

Anonymous said...



my web-site site

whealthy said...

I like recepies for yeast less bread. When I don't have time to bake I buy yeast less bread in stores. Here are my findings summarized in a blog http://www.whealthysolutions.com/yeast-free-bread-for-people-with-candida/