Cornbread is a standard name for any number of quick breads, bread leavened chemically, rather than by yeast, containing cornmeal. There are many variations on this quick bread made from cornmeal, eggs and oil. As maize, corn, is native to North America, it is not surprising that the various kinds of cornbreads are more widespread in the world. However, in Italy, the corn-based mush known as polenta is sometimes fashioned into a fried form resembling cornbread. Cornbread varies from region to region, although the basic ingredients remain the same.
Cornbread has its origin the very earliest American history. Native Americans who grew corn were well aware of its versatility and used it for cakes, breads and porridges. They shared their knowledge with the European settlers and corn became an important food before wheat was established in the New World.
“The first breads settlers made with corn meal were baked in open hearths, sometimes on planks or other implements, and often called “ash cake.” As cooking methods improved, settlers started using their sturdy cast-iron skillets to bake the breads, known by such names as journey-cake, johnny cake, hoe-cakes, dodgers, spoon bread and a variety of other appellations” (What is Cornbread?).
One of the great advantages of cornbread, of course, is that it keeps well and does not need to rise. This was a big plus in progressive cooking. As cornbread gradually became more widely consumed, deviations on the recipe developed depending on what the cook had on hand that day.
Cornbread was also popular on both sides during the Civil War. When it could be cooked properly, it was a favorite dish. “However, when supplies became scarce and the soldiers had to fend for themselves, they created “ramrod” cornbread.”(What is Cornbread?) This was their ration of cornmeal, mixed with water and salt. The thick, pasty batter was then wrapped around the rifle ramrods in a spiral and cooked over...