is a generic name for any number of quick breads (a bread leavened
chemically, rather than by yeast) containing cornmeal. As maize (also known
as corn) is native to North America, it is not surprising that the various
kinds of cornbreads are more prevalent in the New World. However, in Italy,
the corn-based mush known as polenta is sometimes fashioned into a fried
form resembling cornbread.
Native Americans were using ground corn for cooking long before the European
explorers arrived in the New World. Cornbread was first discovered by
Europeans during the European exploration of North America. Europeans who
had to use the local resources for food, fashioned cornmeal into cornbread.
Cornbread was popular during the American Civil War because it was very
cheap and could be made in many different forms. It could be fashioned into
high-rising, fluffy loaves or simply fried for a fast meal.
Types of cornbread
Cornbread is a popular item in soul food enjoyed by many people for its
texture and scent. Cornbread can be baked, fried or, rarely, steamed.
Steamed cornbreads are mushy, chewier and more akin to cornmeal pudding than
what most consider to be traditional cornbread.
The most common variety, skillet-baked cornbread (often simply called
skillet bread or hoecake depending on the container it's cooked in) is a
traditional staple of rural cuisine in the United States, especially in the
Southern United States which involves heating bacon drippings, lard or other
oil in a heavy, well-seasoned cast iron skillet in an oven, and then pouring
a batter made from cornmeal, egg and buttermilk directly into the hot
grease. The mixture is returned to the oven to bake into a large, crumbly
and sometimes very moist cake with a crunchy crust. This bread will tend to
be dense, meant more as an accompaniment than as a bread meant to stand on
its own. In addition to the skillet method, such cornbread can also be made
in sticks, muffins or loaves. In some parts of the South it is crumbled into
a glass of cold buttermilk and eaten with a spoon. In rural areas of
Virginia in the mid 20th century it, accompanied by pinto beans or honey,
was a common lunch for poor children. It is often served with homemade
Unlike fried types of cornbread, baked cornbread is a quick bread that is
dependent on an egg-based protein matrix for its structure (though the
addition of wheat flour adds gluten to increase its cohesiveness). The
baking process gelatinizes the starch in the cornmeal, but still often
leaves some hard starch to give the finished product a distinctive sandiness
not typical of breads made from other grains.