Life is full of “Aha!” moments. It’s just that shockingly few people seem to be observant enough, receptive enough, or comfortable enough with their own status of “not knowing everything” to notice and appreciate them in their abundance.
As a teacher of the Feldenkrais Method, my work is about creating “Aha!” moments for other people. Moshe Feldenkrais famously said, “We act in accordance with our self image.” As people are able to develop a more complete image of themselves — for example, that their spine is more like a chain than a pipe or rod; that the shoulder blade can actually slide freely across the upper ribs in one’s back; or that we work too hard of our own efforts rather than using gravity and trajectory to propel us — then those moments of revelation appear with astonishing predictability. “Aha!” is almost always accompanied by, “I can’t believe I never knew that before!” Rather than feeling silly or inadequate, they find themselves interesting, and interested, in what further surprises might await them. It is very cool.
So, on New Year’s Day, I had my own “Aha!” moment, and I can’t believe I didn’t know it before. My family tradition is to have a meal of blackeyed peas, ham, and cornbread on that day. My mother gave up cornbread in favor of hushpuppies in later years (which still qualify), so I sort of got out of touch with the whole cornbread thing. As I was married, and then on my own again, my cornbread had always been a failure. I was already a Midwestern daughter of an Arkansas mother trying to do her best by the ancient rituals. I tried it from scratch, I tried it from a mix (my mom always used Jiffy), and baked it in the 9 x 9 square pyrex pan, according to the package directions. Each time, I met with failure. Not necessarily inedible disastrous failure, but just “this clearly is not right” kind of failure. Until this year.
As I have shared my “Aha!” with others who had proper southern upbringings, they have all said, “Oh, yeah, even I knew that.” That dismissiveness does not deter me from the wondrousness of my discovery. And so, if you are a cornbread pro, get ready to feel smug as I reveal what you undoubtedly already know. If you have had less than stellar results with your cornbread, read on.
There is only one way to make proper cornbread. It doesn’t matter if you make it from scratch or from a mix, whether you add fresh corn and jalapenos, or onions. That is all beside the point. First of all, the ONLY kind of pan for making cornbread is an iron skillet. Period. One “batch” of cornbread will fit nicely into the small size skillet, about 8 inches across.
Make sure your skillet has been cleaned and seasoned properly. The second secret is this: the pan must be HOT. I can’t believe in all my years of cooking and watching the Food Network I never absorbed this fact. SO, preheat your oven, oil up the inside of the pan, and put the pan in the oven to heat up while you are making your batter. The pan needs to be in that 450 degree oven for at least 10 minutes; 15 would probably be better. Have your oven mits handy to carefully take the pan out and place it on your stove top. Pour in the batter, and you will hear a sizzle. Pop it back into the oven to bake.
When you take your cornbread out of the oven, it will be perfect. Perfect, I say! Take a knife to run around the edge of the cornbread in case it has stuck a little to the sides. Carefully turn the cornbread out onto a plate, and then flip it right side up to serve. Serve it up hot, right away. Perfect cornbread, as God intended.
Now filled with an evangelist’s fervor, my “Aha!” experience was like any transformation. Life will never be the same.