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hot water cornbread


Hot water cornbread is the dinnertime treat that helped shape my childhood

Starting around age five or six, whenever we went over my great-grandmother Rita Mae Murphy's house, I wanted to be in the kitchen. There were undeniable benefits to sticking close to all the simmering noises in the kitchen. For one, I was always the taste tester for whatever Grandmama, as we affectionately called her, was cooking up. But the real reason I wanted to be in the kitchen was because that's where all my favorite aunties would gather.

I'd get to catch up on the latest family gossip (though I'd pretend I didn't have a clue what they were talking about), dance along to the music that always drifted in from outside, and simply be in the presence of the matriarch of our family. She had a knack for making me feel like I was her favorite great-grandchild — she made us all feel that way. 

I can still picture my Grandmama hunched over a small bowl with a wooden spoon in her hand. She was pouring hot water into a well she'd created in the middle of her corn meal dough and was making a family favorite — hot water cornbread. She had a very specific cast-iron skillet she liked to use for this batter, the one that was large enough to fry enough hot water corn bread to keep impatient hungry mouths closed. 

In my family, hot water cornbread was a special treat reserved for fish fries or whenever something celebratory was happening. Always served piping hot and fresh out of the grease, hot water cornbread is crusty on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside, giving you the best of both textures. The flavor isn't so different from regular cornbread and the batter can be as sweet or as salty as you'd like. 

In his new-ish cookbook, "SOUL," famed Atlanta chef Todd Richards lays out a hot water cornbread recipe that is frankly the closest thing to the recipe I remember so fondly from my childhood. 

So if you feel so inclined, call up a group of friends or send an invitation to your family. Turn on some music (that'd be Earth, Wind and Fire in my house), mix a cocktail (or two), and fry up a batch of this hot water cornbread. Hot Water Cornbread
Recipe lightly adapted from "SOUL" by Todd Richards

Serves: 10 

2 1/2 cups water
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 cups plain yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon raw sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2/3 cup whole milk buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil 
All-purpose flour, for shaping

Bring the water and salt to boil in a saucepan over high heat. 

In a medium heatproof bowl, stir together the cornmeal, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg and cayenne. Add the boiling water, and stir until combined. Let stand for 5 minutes. Fold the buttermilk into the cornmeal mixture and let stand for 5 more minutes. 

Heat the oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Line a large plate with paper towels.

Sprinkle flour in one large soup spoon. Use the spoon to scoop about 1 1/2 tablespoons batter from the bowl. Use a second spoon to slide the batter out into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side. Repeat with remaining cornmeal mixture to make about 20 pieces, adding each to the hot oil as it is shaped. Drain on the paper towel-lined plate. Serve hot. 

Author image

Ryan Shepard is the editor-in-chief at Southern Kitchen. Though originally from Los Angeles, she has lived in Atlanta since early 2017 and cannot imagine calling any other city home (except maybe New Orleans). Before joining Southern Kitchen's staff, Ryan worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on public policy issues. When she's not at work, she enjoys hunting down the best Mexican food in the city and drinking whiskey, obviously.