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Dinner & A Book

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The Best Cook in the World

Aired on March 20, 2021

Cornbread Recipe

From the book: The Best Cook in the World by Rick Bragg

Author’s note: You will notice the title is just “cornbread.” “Getting’ fancy will mess it up, usually.” This is a Depression-era cornbread recipe that some find a little crumbly, almost dry, if they are accustomed to box recipes. Some people insist on adding sugar to the recipe, to make a sweeter cornbread, or milk and eggs, for a more cakelike cornbread. “Don’t never, ever put sugar in cornbread. It will ruin it, and you will have to throw it out.”


  • 1 ½ cups of self-rising yellow cornmeal
  • 1 ½ cups of white self-rising white cornmeal
  • 1 ½ to 2 cups of cold water
  • ¼ stick butter, softened, or lard, bacon grease, or shortening
  • (No salt. It’s already in the self-rising meal)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of mayonnaise


1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees
2. Mix the cornmeals in a dry bowl. Slowly add the cold water until the meal has a nice, smooth consistency, like pudding. Different meals will take more or less water, at different times of the year. Take a spoonful and tilt it. If the mixture drips, it is too watery and the cornbread will be an abomination. Some people like to add bacon grease or lard into a mixture of plain cornbread, but it is not necessary. There is already enough fat, and flavor, in the dish
3. Using your fingers, grease a 9-inch cast-iron skillit with butter or lard. Its your choice and it will taste good either way. The butter will add another little level of flavor. If you do not own a cast-iron skillit, shame on you; go get one. If you have no lard, you can use bacon grease or any good shortening. The shortening, though, will not leave the delicious pork flavor that the lard will, though it would be healthier. So, of course, would be eating a salad.
4. Pour the cornmeal mixture into the skillit, and bake until the top is golden brown, usually around 20 minutes. If the top turns dark brown, the cornbread will be mealy, dusty, and dry.
5. “Cook it right the first time, and pay attention to the smell. You will smell it when it’s done, the kind of nutty smell. For the rest of your life, you can time it with your nose.”

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