Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Because it is butter, because it is my heart: Buttery 'New England-style' Cornbread

There are many bad reasons to choose a school, but as proud as I am to have graduated from Wesleyan University, I have to say that I used one of the worst 'deciding factors' of all time: Wesleyan offered singles to all of its incoming freshman (which were called 'frosh,' in appropriately gender-neutral language). I had no desire to share a room--I had been raised as an only child and was never complimented for playing well with others my own age.

However, had I not chosen a school that offered singles to its students, given my personality, the transitional stresses I experienced in my first year of college would likely have been far worse.

Although it could simply have been that Wesleyan knew the types of students it attracted all too well.

The two foolish girls who did voluntarily select a double in Butterfield C, the name of my first dorm, literally almost tore themselves apart in a titanic clash of opposites. Picture a moody, withdrawn urban hipster thrust into the same living quarters as a wholesome drama major, still breaking in her new Doc Martens the first week of school.

The tormented Shu Mei would take twelve hours to get up the courage to write eight tortured words for a paper due the next day, and rage at her roommate.

One night, she actually put on her roommate's clothes, and went running down the hall, imitating the girl, shrieking: "I'm Carrie!  Look at me!  I'm soooo cool in my flannel!  I'm so fucking happy all of the fucking time!  So fucking happy!" Shu Mei was nice to me because of my inoffensively moody and self-hating aura, although the fact that she sometimes heard Broadway music coming from my closed, single door meant that she could never really trust me.

The one thing I didn't miss at college, was home-cooked meals.  Everyone complained, but I found the cafeteria food to be much better than what I was used to at home. And many days, that first year, what got me out of bed was not the hunger for knowledge, but the hunger for the buttery corn muffins--and the oatmeal and bran muffins--waiting for me at the cafeteria.  I would stash as many  muffins as I could in a hidden Tupperware container, along with handfuls of individually wrapped packets of butter and often eat the muffins for lunch or a snack, when my carb-stoked blood sugar was crashing.

It's said that we usually make poorer nutritional choices when we eat alone, and in my experience that is certainly true.  In company, I would never have selected crusty-topped corn muffins with several pats of butter as my entree. Alone, I would open up the softened packet and press the muffin to the butter to coat its surface and dive right into an ecstasy of saturated yellow fat...although I also liked eating muffins with cold butter, too.  At that point, however, you are pretty much freebasing butter because you need several pats to cover the whole muffin. 

But it was good that I was alone, because that meant I was not rooming with Carrie or Shu Mei.

Good cornbread is like eating pure butter or sunshine, even without any additional spread. However, this cornbread is so good, I strongly suggest you consume it with others.  In fact, I suggest a crowd, at Thanksgiving, to limit your consumption to sociable levels. It is a true New England-style cornbread--light and fluffy, rather than dense and designed to sop up chili like Texas-style cornbread.

If you eat it alone, you might be too tempted.....

Not to leave well enough alone and to butter....
And to your solitary heart's contentment...

Buttery 'New-England-style' Cornbread


Adapted from All Recipes

2/3 cups melted butter
1 cup white, granulated sugar
3 beaten large eggs
1 2/3 cups of whole milk
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup white cornmeal
5 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt


1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Although I usually say to use parchment, for this recipe I oiled a 9X13 pan, so the cornbread would have a nice 'crust.'
2. Incorporate the butter, sugar, eggs and milk in a bowl.
3. Sift the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Spoon the sifted mixture into the 'wet' ingredients, stirring until the batter is incorporated (it's okay if the batter is slightly lumpy).
4. Pour the batter into the oiled pan.  Bake for 22-25 minutes until a toothpick can be withdrawn 'clean.'  Cut and serve. 

Extra butter is suggested but optional.


  1. There was a time long ago when my carb-loading meal of choice was a large KFC mashed potatoes and gravy and three of their biscuits. It would start out being mashed potato and gravy biscuit sandwiches and end up being a feral chowdown. I always found it funny when the KFC person would ask me if it was to-go, but maybe they figured that if I was going to eat such a sad meal, it wouldn't be that much sadder to eat it in public.

  2. @flurrious--I totally know what you mean! I went through a period where my 'dinner' was often Tasti-d-Lite, a fake diet ice cream that I would eat in such large quantities that it canceled out any 'dietary' benefits that it might have--and when I ordered a huge pint of it, they always asked if I wanted a lid. "I am sad, but not so sad I will eat 16 ounces of carcinogenically sweetened whipped garbage in public. I'll wait until I get home," I'd think.

  3. In the Pond, I'm only allowed to make Jiffy.

  4. Unrelated to cornbread, but it makes me think of a time when I went to my local Thai takeout dressed in something other than sweats, to eat dinner with a (male) guest from out of town. The staff couldn't hide their shock- they were like "You're eating HERE? With ANOTHER PERSON?" I guess it's easy to get typecast as "sad takeout lady."

  5. @MD--I hear ya. I've been sad takeout lady. And I've been sad Store 24 lady. Actually, I think anytime I'm in a food place that is open 24-7, it's time to reassess my life priorities.

  6. While I am of the dense, non-sweetened cornbread school of thought, you know that I am not at all unlike you in terms of a love for all things starchy, and butter goes without saying.

    Honestly, I know it's not the right way to eat, but if I could I would start my day my oatmeal and toast, have pasta for lunch, and wind up with some potato pancakes for dinner. If I got peckish in the evening, I would have more toast, of course.

  7. @Catboy--I must confess, the reason I didn't attempt Southern-style cornbread was not that I don't love it--in fact, I probably DO prefer it--but I was too scared to give it a go without blogging about the easier New England-style first. Without the sugar, it is much more difficult, in a way, because you have to get the buttery texture 'just right.' But in a cast iron skillet=fabulous.

    Also, like you, my body seems to do best on a low-sugar, low-carbohydrate diet, despite my love of baking. Boo! Stupid body...