I’ve been unable to post this past week due to computer issues, so I’m late in posting last week’s story about Corny the little goat – and how Southerners have always made the most of the little bit they had. And yes, I really do have a cousin who had a pet goat. Another story about her is that she suffered an eye injury when her chicken tried to peck her shiny earring. But that’s another story for another day.
Corny was a baby goat cousin Rosie Belle adopted when she was a senior in high school. His full name was “Cornbread Charlie,” but she only yelled out both names if he started running across the school parking lot. He would nibble the weeds along the fence near the football field, then perch on top of her Toyota Corolla during classes and no one cared.
The cute goat-kid’s middle name, “Charlie,” was in honor of her favorite science teacher, and “Cornbread” came from her favorite part of supper.
Our mothers made cornbread that was fluffy and soft, but our grandmother first fried it in hot grease in a cast iron skillet on the stove, then, she’d finish it off in the hot oven and it would come out thin, with a crispy outside and a smooth inside that tasted like a crunchy dream of heaven. It was our favorite part of the big family meal. Some called it corn pone while others said it was more like a hoe cake, but we just called it “fried bread.”
Every family seems to have a customized twist on their version of cornbread, but never do any of the real Southern families add sugar to their cornbread, because that’s called . . . cake. Those with roots in Appalachia had their traditional method for more of a thin bread, while others added eggs to achieve the fluffier version.
Rosie Belle’s daddy insisted on having cornbread several times a week and told his daughter eating it with butter would make her pretty. In later years, she regretted trying to be so pretty and joined a gym.
Corn was an abundant commodity in the poverty stricken South, so cornbread was a staple in most homes. As Southern legends go, hoe cake supposedly got its name from being cooked on a garden hoe over an open fire, although many say “hoe” just meant some type of griddle.
Baked tall and soft, or fried flat and crispy, using a skillet, or heavy cast iron mold that looked like corn stalks, every family and region had a different interpretation of the bread, but all were related to the Southern story of creating something wonderful out of almost nothing at all. Even today, it unifies Southern tables in households of all kinds.
Civil War soldiers crumbled cornbread over beans to make a hearty meal, and some people still crumble it in a glass of milk to eat with a spoon like cereal. It’s an old-fashioned treat passed down from a time when there wasn’t much else in the pantry. I tried crumbling it in milk with my Grandfather and decided it was messy, but better than Captain Crunch.
Like the old quilts that started as worthless scraps but were transformed into beautiful and practical items, a simple bowl of cornmeal was made into a staple of Southern mealtimes. When we thought we had nothing, we had it all. Necessity, ingenuity and the grace of God gave us beautiful clothes, warm blankets, homemade toys and buttered cornbread. Generations later, we still know that in the land of dirt roads, cornfields and cotton, even a little goat can become a trusty friend, and a handful of corn can become a delicacy when we embrace the joy of simple things.
This story first appeared on AL.com and in their fine newspapers throughout the state of Alabama.