Cornbread in Buttermilk

This is a dish generations in the South were raised upon. My experience is from my parents who were mostly on the family farm during the Great Depression. I remember my uncle’s story of being thankful if he got a biscuit to eat everyday day and often possum was the meat dish. My Father confirmed  possum as a common meal, but their staple was buttermilk and cornbread. They learned to love this dish from their parents, my grandparents who were born in the nineteenth century, who probably learned it from their parents before them. Nearly everyone had milk cows and corn which was ground into corn meal at the local grist mill. There are many of these old mills still preserved throughout the South, located near a creek or stream which provided water power to turn the milling stones. 

In the old days, you could trade corn for cornmeal and with your milk you could churn butter with which you could make cornbread. The skim milk from the churn could be mixed with some existing buttermilk and fermented into more fresh buttermilk. The sour taste comes from the cultures that naturally occur in the proper temperature and atmosphere. My mother would make her own buttermilk and it was as good as any from the store. Buttermilk is generally lower in fat content than “Sweet” milk, a common term for fresh whole milk. However, it has a tart and tasty thick creamy texture. I’ll admit it is an acquired taste as are most sour flavors. Adding hot cornbread to cold buttermilk offsets the sourness and provides long lasting energy of grain to milk proteins for a dish that “sticks to your ribs,” meaning it provides lasting energy.

This dish is part of the historic culture of many generations of common farming families that proceeded us, but it is disappearing with the baby boomer generation many of whom were brought up in the suburbs. I am trying to pass this delightful and healthy dish on to my children and grandchildren, but it is the food of the common man and laborers, connected to the farm where meals and ingredients were produced, rather than purchased, so it is difficult. It would be a shame to lose such a wholesome and tasty dish that can be fixed, served and eaten on the fly or from leftovers. My father was a buttermilk connoisseur, he would look for buttermilk in the store that was about to expire because it was thicker and had a better taste as it aged. I found this to be true and have continued to enjoy buttermilk weeks after the “expiration date.” This is the beauty of most fermented foods which are naturally preserved by cultures. If you like different tastes, textures, and combined flavors you should try this simple dish and experience what generations of your ancestors lived upon.

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