Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
During the month of Elul, many Jews take the time to reflect on their past year and prepare themselves spiritually for the next. This year, I have found myself falling short when it comes to these reflective moments. I was surprised, then, to find that my most spiritual moment happened with 90 years’ worth of rust and oil under my fingernails.
After a recent trip home to Georgia, my mother sent me back to Mississippi with my Great-Grandmother Fannie’s cast iron skillet on the passenger’s seat. Before I could cook up any of her family recipes, I had to first scrub it down to its base layer, coat it in a protective layer of oil, and bake it at high heat to seal the iron and prevent food from sticking.
Isn’t that just what I’ve been trying to do with this reflective period before the High Holidays: scrape away the pride, frustration, denial, and guilt of the past year that have built up, one clinging to the other despite my best efforts?
With my steel wool and dish soap, I was finally able to do the dirty work it took to reconcile my shortcomings with my strengths and resolve to do better this year, knowing that come next fall I will do the same thing again. From stripping the pan to its base layer to producing a home-cooked dish worthy of a family picnic, I created a new way to prepare myself for the new year.
Although I’m no baker, it only seemed right that my inaugural use of this piece of family history be to bake bread– a ubiquitous symbol of homey-ness, warmth, full stomachs and full hearts. In a nod to my Georgia mountain woman roots, and to the Jewish tradition of baking a round challah for Rosh Hashanah, I set out to make a round buttermilk cornbread.
Over speakerphone, my mom imparted the oral tradition of Fannie’s home-cooking, instructing me on how to pour the batter over the melted butter in the pan to create a perfect, crispy crust. I added a few tablespoons of honey to represent the sweetness of the new year, and also some jalapenos to symbolize the bite and spice of the changes I’ve undergone over the past year (and also since this time of renewal and new beginnings coincides with peak pepper-harvesting season).
I never had the privilege of knowing Fannie, but I hope to bring new life to the skills and the skillet that I inherited from her. They have already spent four generations nurturing the women of my North Georgia family, and I hope you enjoy the recipe as well.
Skillet Cornbread for a Sweet New Year
- 4 tbsp butter
- 2 c yellow cornmeal
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 ½ tsp salt
- 2 eggs
- 2 c buttermilk
- 3 tbsp honey
- 3 jalapenos, diced, plus 1 cut into rings for decoration
- 1 c fresh cooked corn (about 1 cob’s worth)
- Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Place the butter in the cast iron skillet; put the skillet in the oven until the butter melts.
- In the meantime, whisk together the cornmeal, sugar, baking soda, and salt.
- In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, buttermilk, and honey.
- Carefully take the hot skillet from the oven and pour about half of the butter into the wet ingredients. Use a brush to coat the sides of the skillet with the remaining butter.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring until just combined.
- Add in the diced jalapenos and corn.
- Carefully pour the mixture into the skillet. Top with the jalapeno rings.
- Bake for 25 minutes or until golden. Enjoy with family and friends!