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Pre-Crumbled Cornbread

In my corner of the South, there are few things more divisive or ubiquitous than cornbread. Everyone you meet has a closely guarded recipe and thinks their Momma’s is the best. And my family was no different! It was also a treat that we could see coming a day in advance. If you walked into the kitchen, and you saw dried beans soaking in water, you could bet the farm that cornbread was imminent. Those were the days I always looked forward to. It was usually a little chillier. The kind of brisk weather that demanded a big warm hug in the form of a crumbled up piece of cornbread, topped with chopped onions and a pat of butter, and then slathered with piping hot beans and broth. Chow chow on the side, please.

Momma was usually in charge of the cooking while Daddy worked all hours as a preacher. But she held down a job of her own too, so when she couldn’t get home in time, dinner was up to Daddy and me. One such occasion happened when I was about 9 years old, and we were making, you guessed it, Beans and Cornbread. The white beans were already in the slow cooker, filling the house with their mouth-wateringly earthy aroma. But Daddy didn’t know how to make the cornbread, so he put me in charge. Dad grabbed the big bag of cornmeal while I pulled out the cast iron skillet just like the mommas in my family have done for years. And we followed that old recipe to the letter. I can still remember trying to peek in the oven while it baked because I was so excited to see the first cornbread I’d ever made on my own (well…MAYBE with a little help from my dad here and there).

It was ready to come out of the oven right as Mom got home. Then we gathered around the dinner table, and the time had finally come to bask in my little triumph. Spatula in hand, I carved out a slice and felt my heart swell with pride as I moved to lift it up.

And it was stuck to the pan. I mean like glue stuck. 

Alas, the entire middle of the cornbread wouldn’t come out of the pan at all except in crumbs. I deflated immediately, wondering what I’d done wrong. I followed the directions exactly. Dad helped. We made it exactly the way Momma always did a hundred times before, and it was still a total disaster. I might have been a little young for an existential crisis, but that’s exactly what I found myself in at that moment. Tears stained my eyes, and all I could choke out was “It’s ruined” over and over. 

But then, my very wise Daddy looked down on me from his full 6’ 6” height, and said, “You crumble cornbread to go in the beans, right?” And I said 

“Yes,” I croaked through my tears.

“Then it’s not ruined,” he continued.  “It’s just pre-crumbled.”

And just like that the world was right again. We didn’t mess up. We created a new recipe that tasted great and saved us a step! I could always count on my dad to put things in the right perspective. Since we were far from wealthy, what we had was always less important than how we looked at what we had. And he’s always had a knack for seeing and speaking the good in just about everything. Even cornbread that was stuck to the bottom of the pan. 

But for years after that fateful night, Dad and I kept trying to get that darn cornbread recipe right. We tried different techniques, adding different ingredients. We’d “add more oil and say a prayer”, as my Dad says. And it ALWAYS came out “pre-crumbled”, no matter how hard we tried! So with my parents’ permission, I made some tiny adjustments to the original recipe. I subbed out some of the cornmeal for a bit of flour, and Momma taught me to heat the pan with the shortening already in it, so it coated the pan before adding the batter. That’s the recipe that’s below, and it works like a charm. But don’t worry. If you’re making a big old pot of beans tonight, I have the “Pre-Crumbled” version written out there too. 

Momma’s Cornbread

Makes 1 11’ Round Cornbread (see notes)

2 ¼ cups cornmeal

¾  cup flour

¼ + ⅛  teaspoons baking soda

3 teaspoons baking powder

1 ½ teaspoons salt

3 eggs, lightly beaten

3 cups buttermilk

3 Tablespoons of shortening

  • Preheat the oven to 425°F. 

  • Put the shortening into an 11” round cast iron skillet. Heat the skillet in the oven until the batter is ready.

  • Mix cornmeal, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.

  • In a separate bowl, combine eggs and buttermilk. Add that to the cornmeal mixture and stir until combined.

  • Carefully remove the cast iron skillet from the oven and swirl shortening around the pan. Pour hot shortening in the batter. Mix well.

  • While cast iron is still hot, pour in batter.

  • Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.


  • This recipe is made specifically for a round 11” pan. It also works well in a 9x9. This recipe is 1 ½ times the original. It is easily halved and doubled so feel free to make it the size that works for you.

  • To make the cornbread “Pre-Crumbled”, use 3 cups of cornmeal and no flour. Also, substitute the shortening with 3 Tablespoons of oil. Do not heat the oil, just add it to the eggs and buttermilk. Mix and bake as usual.

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