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I don’t engage in controversy. But sometimes I have to. And this is one of those have-to moments.
Namely, because I feel it’s my duty as a citizen of this country to bring important matters to the forefront of a national discussion. And by “important matters,” I am, of course, talking about putting sugar in cornbread.
The other day I was reading one of my mother’s favorite magazines. This magazine is a respected publication. A standard in homes across the southeast.
I speak of a magazine which my mother reveres. She used to read this magazine aloud at Bible studies, baby christenings and baptisms. A periodical which shall remain nameless, but whose title rhymes with “Louthern Siving.”
The article stated, quote, “…The cornbread we consider our best, includes fine yellow cornmeal, butter, and a touch of sugar.”
I read this recipe aloud to my mother. My mother nearly choked on her dentures.
“Sugar in cornbread?” she gasped. “What’s this world coming to?”
Mama had to be calmed with cream cheese and pepper jelly.
Listen. I don’t like to cause problems, and these are only my opinions, but putting sugar in cornbread is a lot like going to church naked. Sure, it can be done. But don’t expect anyone to ask you over for dinner.
Cornbread is a sacrament to my people, often served with fried chicken, pintos, collards, hocks and greens, or stew. It is a savory dish. It’s not supposed to taste like purple Skittles.
If the good Lord had intended for humankind to eat sweet cornbread, he would have given us all insulin pumps.
And yet this problem persists in America.
Only a few days ago, I visited a restaurant in Franklin, Tennessee. It was one of those fancy joints where waiters and waitresses walk like they’re in need of fiber supplementation. The waitress brought me a hot basket of sweet cornbread.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” I said to the waitress. “There’s something wrong with my cornbread.”
“What’s wrong?” she said.
“Well, I think the chef spilled a box of Duncan Hines into the batter.”
“No, sir. We put sugar in our cornbread.”
“Why would you do such a thing?”
“Because our chef is from Chicago.”
For the love of Earnhardt.
Listen, I try to be a team player. I try to be a good person. I don’t have many overdue library books. I stay at the Holiday Inn Express when possible. But this is an affront.
The church ladies I descend from take their food very seriously.
When I was 6 years old, for example, Miss Henrietta Marcel, at the Baptist church, accused my grandmother of adding too much paprika to her deviled eggs.
After church, someone mysteriously slashed the tires of Miss Henrietta’s Buick. Nobody ever figured out who did it, but a jar of paprika was found wedged in her the exhaust pipe.
And while I’m on the subject of food, there is another item I’d like to bring to public attention.
Yesterday I went to a large chain restaurant that shall remain nameless but whose name rhymes with “International House of Pancakes.” I ordered country-fried steak. When my food arrived something was off.
My steak came with white gravy.
Too often, restaurants mislabel “chicken fried” steaks as “country fried” steaks. And while I love both kinds of steaks, to confuse “chicken fried” and “country fried” is a lot like confusing Brigitte Bardot with Eleanor Roosevelt.
So I called my Aunt Muffin for advice and asked her to weigh in on the “chicken fried” versus “country fried” dispute.
Aunt Muffin is an excellent cook. And not to brag, but my Aunt Muffin’s fried fare is so legendary she was recently kicked out of the American Heart Association.
“What’s the difference between chicken fried and country fried?” I asked her.
Aunt Muffin was happy to reply.
“Chicken fried steak is a quality cut of beef, THICK battered, fried, topped with WHITE gravy and prayed over by at least three Church of Christ parishioners.”
Whereas, according to Aunt Muffin, “country fried” steak is made with cheaper cuts, THINLY battered, then topped with BROWN gravy, and in her opinion, unfit for scrubbing oil stains off driveways.
Now, I realize all this chicken-fried business might sound like splitting hairs. But among my folks the art of frying is sacred. Aunt Muffin went on to tell me there are four distinct styles of culinary frying.
There is “deep frying,” which is what KFC does; “pan frying,” or “shallow frying,” which is how you cook pork chops; “smother frying,” the only way to cook squirrel, rabbit, or quail; and “hell frying.”
Which is what happens to all people who put sugar in their cornbread.
Sean Dietrich is a columnist and novelist known for his commentary on life in the American South. He has authored nine books and is the creator of the “Sean of the South” blog and podcast. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.
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