Return to Content

Cornbread | Recipe with a History

Yankee Plus Dec 2015


Cornbread | Recipe with a History
4 votes, 4.25 avg. rating (83% score)
Print Friendly
Sweet New England Cornbread
Photo/Art by Hornick/Rivlin
Sweet New England Cornbread

Celebrating the sweet culinary heritage of a native New England staple.

Following the Pilgrims’ first winter in Plymouth in 1620–21, their numbers reduced by nearly half from illness and lack of shelter, one of the surest and strongest signs of relief came in the form of corn from the native Wampanoags. After learning how to grow, harvest, dry, and grind the new grain (which they called “Indian corn”), the settlers boiled the resulting cornmeal into a thick mush and baked it into cornbread. By embracing corn as a staple in their new diet, the settlers not only filled their bellies, but adapted a Native American tradition as their own.

Over time, the mildly sweet and gritty crunch of cornmeal worked its way into many classic New England dishes. Anadama bread and Indian pudding call for cornmeal, as do pancake-like jonnycakes made with whitecap flint cornmeal—so beloved by Rhode Islanders that the state legislature passed a law in the 1940s stating that any product designated as Rhode Island cornmeal must be made only from whitecap flint corn, grown and ground within the state. Humble cornbread, meanwhile, defied regional exclusivity and found its way onto supper tables nationwide, where it often reached (especially in the southern United States) a status akin to kitchen communion.

For her book The Cornbread Gospels (Workman Publishing, 2007), Vermont author Crescent Dragonwagon spent six years researching and compiling more than 200 cornbread recipes, both national and global. In America, she admits that Southerners in particular are “passionate about proper cornbread ingredients and technique to the point of fanaticism,” but reminds us that with its rich past, cornbread belongs to everyone, and that “cornbread love, like all love, is universal and deeply individual.”

Generally speaking, Southern-style cornbread is an “everyday” bread, made from all cornmeal, without a whisper of sugar; it’s moistened with buttermilk and cooked in a cast-iron skillet, greased with bacon fat, until crisp. Northern cornbread, on the other hand, doesn’t shy away from sweetness. Most recipes call for a small amount of sugar, along with regular milk and equal parts cornmeal and flour for a lighter texture. Tender and sweet with a light crunch, squares of Northern-style cornbread are a treat for special occasions. For many, this cake-like version proves hard to resist, and according to Dragonwagon, “thus does Yankee cornbread quietly offer its own gospel, leaving the preaching and conversion to those who have already partaken of its goodness.”

Aimee Seavey


Aimee Seavey


Associate Editor Aimee Seavey is a staff writer for Yankee Magazine and assists in the development and promotion of content for through blogging and social media outlets.

Special 2 for 1 Holiday Sale

Send a one-year gift subscription of Yankee Magazine for only $17.99 and give a 2nd one-year gift subscription absolutely FREE. Plus, we will send you a FREE 2016 Scenes of New England Calendar (a $9.95 value)!


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

We reserve the right to remove or edit comments that are offensive or disrespectful to our readers and/or writers, cannot be verified, lack clarity, or contain profanity. Your comments may be republished by Yankee Magazine across multiple platforms.

Register Sign In

©2015, Yankee Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Yankee Publishing Inc., | P.O. Box 520, Dublin, NH 03444 | (603) 563-8111

< Prev

Soup Party | A Potluck Gathering

Kathy Gunst and her husband, John RudolphA twist on potlucks, a soup party is a winter tradition nourishes friendships as well ...

Related Articles

Next >