The comfort food movement is part of our culinary landscape. A trend, comfort is not. The desire to relive and revive menus from our gastronomic comforting days is not a throwback for the sake of being nostalgic rather it is the desire to eat what we like, not just what is fashionable. There has been and will continue to be, a resurgence of meatloaf, chicken potpie and macaroni and cheese on menus across the nation. As such, all the accompaniments requisite to their respective main dishes are invited guests, as well. The lumpy gravy, thick mashed potatoes and golden cornbread complete the comfort revolution. Not to say that liberties have not been taken with their contemporary resurrection as each generation breeds new cooks with new perspectives but, it is their resolve to treasure the appetizing archives that make old food new again.
It is within the world of side dishes that ultimately make the nostalgic meal worth reliving. After all, the garnish and accompaniment make the meal whole. What would a juicy hamburger be without expertly prepared French fries? Where would we be with wonderful roast turkey with not a smattering of mashed potatoes in sight? What would the dinner table be, in all its retro-glory, without some tasty bread to make everything better? And when I think comfort, I do not hearken back to Ciabatta, Baguette or even Wonder Bread. I think cornbread. Golden, glistening, gut-stuffing cornbread slathered with sweet butter, perhaps a drizzle of honey or studded with the occasional morsel of a chewy corn kernel nestled amongst its brethren cornmeal. Could there be a truer relic of telltale fare from the by-gone era? Enter Jeremy Jackson and his whimsical, insightful and often droll The Cornbread Book.
Jeremy Jackson suffers from some unidentified affliction that keeps cornbread on his mind so much so that he had to pen The Cornbread Book. He will tell you that he is writing about cornbread because it is necessary to get it noticed as an icon, as an indelible part of that comfort landscape. And he does well to dot his pages with historical accounts, familial anecdotes and tales that relive his earliest inspirations as well as the whys of 40+ recipes. Most revealing, though, is the content of his recipes and how he weaves the history of this bread with the threads that make for really good eating.
The requisite pithy and perfunctory history of cornbread is colored with Jacksons tongue-in-cheek humor. He pokes fun at the 1917 war effort that encouraged worldwide salvation through cornbread consumption, as well as his quips about the golden loaves from Benjamin Franklins, Henry David Thoreaus and other colorful characters perspective. The proof, though, is in the pone.
Jackson offers up a spectrum of recipes to satisfy your cornbread lust. Fundamentally, his Sweet Cornbread is a tried and true take its flavor is well rounded and lends the necessary sweetness and moist texture to please most. It is his more daring takes, including Sunflower Seed Cornbread, Cornmeal Waffles and Popcorn Pita Bread that really give light to his passion and his obviously well thought out effort. I made the Sunflower variety employing homemade Sunflower Seed meal as he suggested and it worked like a charm. The Corn Fritters he tells us about were a hit, too!
There are no allusions to grande cuisine or even a nod to contemporary cooking in The Cornbread Book. Rather, Jeremy Jackson sticks to his best-laid plans of serving up this honest, humble food from its beginnings. Just like other food archivists resurrect the classics and offer their own take on what once was, Jackson gives his beloved cornbread embellishments that work to make classics even more memorable.