Monday, January 18, 2016

A trip down memory lane ~ my column from Sunday's paper

My birthday is later this week and I decided to buy myself an early present, but I didn’t realize it would require a walk back in time to find it. Let me explain.

Jilda told me this morning on my way to work that she was making Fagioli soup. We discovered this soup a few years ago while eating at Olive Garden and fell in love with it.

My lovely spouse is like the Pink Panther except she cracks recipes instead of safes. My stomach rejoiced when she cracked the Fagioli soup code. She’s made it several times and if there’s a better meal on frosty winter evenings I’ve never eaten it. Of course, soup requires cornbread. Spending time up north, I learned that a lot of folks there ate crackers instead of cornbread, which I consider almost sinful.

I don’t cook a lot of things, but in my opinion, my cornbread is exceptional. Through the years, I developed a secret recipe with a thin top crust that is crunchy and golden brown.

The only good way that I’ve found to bake cornbread is in an old fashion skillet that’s as heavy as a blacksmith’s anvil.

The perfect crust is almost an art form. The skillet preheats with the oven.

When the timer dings saying the oven is at 400 degrees, I remove the empty skillet and toss in a scoop of coconut oil, which melts instantly. This greases the skillet so the bread doesn’t stick.

When the cornbread comes out of the oven after about 30 minutes, it’s an excellent complement to most any kind of soup.

The one problem is that all our skillets are about as big as manhole covers and in the past we wound up tossing half the uneaten cornbread out to the chickens.

Solving this problem is where the walk back in time came in. I’ve never seen an iron skillet at the big-box stores. You can get the thin ones made in Asia, but I wouldn’t use one for cornbread.

Yesterday, I walked into Andrew Posey & Son’s Hardware store in Jasper humming happy birthday to me. A small bell on the door jingled. It wasn’t an electronic chime, but a real bell. Hearing the bell triggered a déjà vu experience. The wooden floors looked as if they were made from heart pine and creaked in places as I walked up and down the aisles.

On the old shelves were tools, toys and aqua-colored mason jars used for canning. The store is jam-packed with all kinds of useful things for the house and garden. When is the last time you saw a place that sold butter churns, cookie cutters, and replacement ax handles?

Out front was a line of Radio Flyer Wagons. There’s an old photograph of me as a barefoot kid in a diaper riding in one of these wagons. I must have pushed that baby a million miles.

It’s a miracle I didn’t max out my credit cards before I walked out. But when I left, all I had was a new iron skillet that’s about half the size of our old ones.

Progress and change are inevitable. Many of the old hardware and dry goods stores were lost in the rush toward things that are cheaper, faster and shinier. I’m thankful that some of the stores have survived in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia to give us an opportunity to walk back in time and buy things that will last.
I bought one of those wagons years ago for my
great nephew Jordan


  1. Well, I think you should post your cornbread recipe.
    A cast iron skillet is a marvelous thing. What I eventually learned is that not all iron is an equal quality. My sister was frustrated with one of her pans and I told her that Mama would say she wasn't using enough "seasoning" (grease) in her cooking. Once we were talking to Mama, and my sister mentioned her complaint. Good-humoredly (I *thought*), I said, "You ain't using enough seasoning in your cooking." My sister threatened to scream if I said that anymore.
    Then I was floored when Mama said "Some pans are made with better iron."
    My sister looked triumphant, and I was astounded to realize that Mama had been holding out on telling us that.

  2. I make my cornbread in a heated and greased iron skillet. My skillets have been handed down from grandparents and so forth. I love how it makes a dark crust while leaving the inside like a white cake. My favorite way to eat cornbread is broken in a bowl with milk poured over it. "Cornbread n Milk".

  3. Anonymous1:51 PM

    PLEASE post your recipe!! I have a couple of my grandmother's cast iron skillets which were the only things she'd make her potato latkes in.

  4. I have several different sizes of cast iron skillets. If properly treated they are every bit as no-stick as some of today's pans.

  5. Enjoyed the virtual walk through the store with you. Being from South Georgia, you know that I smiled at the mention of each item.
    And.... cornbread and soup or corn bread and chili are absolute "musts" together.
    I, too, love the soup that you and your wife enjoy. I've never tried making my own, but when I go to Olive Garden, it's what I order...every time.
    I have cast iron skillets in all sizes. Love them, and they are part of my every-day-cooking routine.
    Thank you for this splendid post.

  6. I love stores like you described here... this brings back a good deal of memories ... I also love those old skillets. .. I had one that lasted close to 30 years, now I need another one.. I love, love, love cornbread. .

  7. Okay I about said shut-up twice. Once was when I smelled the cornbread when you took it out after 30 minutes. Now I want some of it and milk (sweet or buttermilk)!
    But I did enjoy the trip back in time, it is a pleasure to enter a store that has History written all thru it.
    You transferred the thoughts might well! I like it.

    The wagon made me smile.


  8. PS: I'll never forget the fist hunk of corn bread I had in the mess hall, IT WAS SWEET! WHAT? I had never thought nor heard of it.

  9. I only know crackers with soup(gasp!). I didn't grow up with corn bread but it sounds yummy. Is that really you as a little boy on the cover? I am easy to fool:) I love these old fashioned hardware stores

  10. Jordan is going to love the wagon.

    I have a similar feeling about hardware stores.

  11. I agree, the cast iron skillets do make the best cornbread ! Crackers are ok but it is much better ! I also think you should share the recipes for both the soup and the cornbread.

  12. Too bad those good old fashion stores have all but disappeared. It was like walking back to my childhood. A good story for your Sunday column... but what about the floorboard incident that cut your trip short?

    I follow a blog called Mennonite Girls can Cook and it just happened that yesterday's post was about Corn Bread for two... They used a small cast iron skillet and heat the skillet before putting the cornbread in.
    Here is the link if you're interested.


    Have a great day.JB

  13. Am I allowed to have a biscuit instead of cornbread? The wagon makes me sad. My parents gave my son a beautiful wood wagon for his first birthday. I forgot to grab it when I moved. X probably threw it out. Asshole.



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