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Culture

A Texan Cornbread Recipe, Dating Back To A Settler's Wagon Train

As our Sense of Community series “Table Traditions” continues, we head into the kitchen of Jane Ann Johnson, of Ozark, who shares her Texan great-grandmother’s cornbread recipe.

“It's probably a recipe that would give a cardiologist a heart attack. But I'm fortunate enough to be married to a cardiologist who loves it, so I get to make it still,” she said.

She uses bacon drippings in the batter and in the cast iron skillet the cornbread is cooked in.

“Now, some people may prefer butter, or health nuts may want canola oil or something like that. I use bacon grease. I prefer quality of life over quantity,” Johnson said.

“My grandmother and her family were settlers in Texas. They came to Texas in a covered wagon from Georgia. And when you're traveling by wagon train, you don't have a lot of time for bread to rise,” Johnson said.

Cornbread offered the settlers simple ingredients that could be cooked in a cast iron skillet over the coals.

She begins by heating up the cast iron skillet with bacon grease in the oven. She mixes the flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt.  Then, she adds the wet ingredients—eggs and milk—to the dry. And she pours some hot bacon grease into the batter, leaving some in the skillet.

The wagon train to Texas

“My grandmother was born in 1876 in Carroll County, Georgia, and she would have been about 13 when they left. And she was the second oldest child,” Johnson said.

“I remember that my great-grandmother said when they crossed the prairie in the wagon, the natural grasses were so high and her children were all towheads that she was afraid she would lose one,” Johnson said.

Her family started farming and ranching, but in the 1930s, they lost everything in the Dust Bowl because they had placed their stakes in cotton.

“They were just dirt farmers. They scratched out a meager existence,” she said.

She pours the cornbread batter into the hot pan, and slides it into the oven for 25 minutes on 450 degrees.

“It's a simple recipe and it's well received by the family. It's always a treat and it promises even better things to come. I've never had anybody not like it—or at least not have the courage to tell me they didn't like it,” she said.

Recipe for "Great-Grandma's Cornbread"

Ingredients:   1/2 cup flour, 2 1/2 cups corn meal, 1/4 cup sugar, 2 Tablespoons baking powder, 2 teaspoons salt, 2 eggs (beaten), 2 1/4 cups milk, 6 Tablespoons melted shortening (or bacon grease) for the batter, 2 Tablespoons hot shortening (or bacon grease) in skillet.

Instructions:  heat a cast iron skillet in the oven with the shortening or bacon grease while mixing the batter.  The key to a delightful crust on the cornbread is to have the skillet and grease hot before pouring the batter in.  While the cast iron skillet heats, combine the flour mixture, wet ingredients, and grease from the pan and mix well.  Pour batter into sizzling hot skillet with the grease in it, and bake for 25 minutes at 450 degrees.