Maybe a winter’s weekday evening. Sun long gone behind the mountains. Homework staring me down at my big girl’s desk. Clatter in the kitchen. Potato soup in the pressure cooker . Tipple beginning to hiss. Television murmur from the living room. Daddy watching the news. And that holy smell. That smell of pure, undiluted love. 

Mom knows the recipe by heart. Knows it backwards and forwards. From watching her mother, from watching her mother-in-law. No teaspoons, cups or tablespoons. No call for organic. Not even an oven temp. (Though +/- 400 will do.) 

Melt a half stick of butter or margarine in a black iron skillet in the oven. Half stays in the skillet. Half goes in the batter. One heaping handful of flour. 3 handfuls of cornmeal. Smidgeon of salt. Big smidgeon of baking soda. About half a carton of buttermilk. Combine so it’s wet and loose and lumpy. Stir in the melted butter like you can’t be bothered. Drop one big spoonful at a time, making three clumps in the still-hot skillet that run together with the butter in between. Bake 25 minutes or so until it’s the very definition of golden brown. Invert onto a dinner plate. 

Serve with soup or ham or breakfast eggs or a little butter and honey. Or serve at room temperature broken into a tall glass and topped with cold buttermilk (preferably just before bed or if you can’t sleep). 

Don’t use the skillet for anything else. Only use it for cornbread. Give it to your daughter one day. 

Photo Credit: William 

I lead writing workshops in the Bay Area, and spend much of my so-called free time writing. To support my avocation (and my family) I sell residential real estate in San Francisco; for more about that visit or