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Mississippi Memories and Cornbread

Mother’s Day always reminds me of trips down to my grandmother’s in Mississippi and time at Harmony Baptist Church. I was always sure I could hear one of my aunts loudly singing off-key to a familiar hymn as we drove up the driveway.
At the church door we were asked if our mother was still living. If so, we received a red rose and a straight pin to attach the rose to our clothes. I always felt sorry for my father because he was given a white rose since his mother had died years ago.
Once inside, we found some relatives and sat with them – whole families together – as my cousin Ellen pounded out hymns on the piano. None of the sermons were memorable, probably because I was thinking about all the good food that would be laid out for “Dinner on the Grounds.”
My Aunt Naomi’s caramel cake was always popular so I soon learned to grab a slice before I headed to the main dishes and sides. The “tables” were wire fencing between the trees and over the years they had begun to sag in the middle. Families would bring a tablecloth to put down before they unloaded their culinary contributions.
Since I didn’t eat chicken – a must at a Southern meal – I usually selected baked ham and sweet potatoes. A salad of sliced cucumbers and onions was always good but the desserts were the best. Of course, there was plenty of cornbread and rolls along with all kinds of beans and peas to choose.
After dinner and some more hymn-singing in the church, we would drive back to Memphis, admiring the dogwood and red bud trees growing wild in the woods. Sometimes Daddy would stop, pull out a shovel from the car trunk and dig up a small dogwood tree. There must have been something special in the Mississippi soil because, unfortunately, the tree never survived in our yard.
But some of the family recipes have lived on through generations. Here’s one from my grandmother, Margaret Emaline, for whom my granddaughter Maggie is named.
Mamaw’s Cornbread
cornbread1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup milk
1 egg
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Melt one tablespoon bacon fat (or butter) in a nine-inch cast iron skillet as you preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Mix ingredients together and pour into hot skillet.
Bake for approximately 20 minutes in a 400-degree oven or until golden brown and cooked through.
– Reach Sidna Brower Mitchell via e-mail at sbmcooks@aol.com.

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