What Makes Hot Water Cornbread Different From The Classic?

It's no secret that America is a verifiable melting pot of cultures and people. It is part of what makes the U.S. great — Americans have the pleasure of experiencing a wide range of customs, traditions, knowledge, and of course, foods based on the countries of many citizens' origins. In fact, a lot of the popular things we eat are far from inherently American like sushi or tacos. Still, there are a number of dishes that were born and bred on American soil that is still eaten with gusto today.

For example, the classic hot dog was developed in part by German immigrant Charles Feltman and made famous by Polish immigrant Nathan Handwerker. In 1853, Native American chef George Crum made the first potato chips when a disgruntled customer complained that his French fries were too thick. And Southern cornbread came about in the American South, where Native Americans cultivated corn for food rather than wheat, which didn't grow there. 

A soul-food staple, classic cornbread is a cake-like bread made of dry and wet ingredients which are combined and baked. It's treated like a dinner roll — it goes with anything on your plate. But there is another type of cornbread born in the South that never sees the heat of an oven. In fact, hot water cornbread is much simpler to make.

The cornbread that isn't baked

Classic cornbread is made from ground cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder, oil (or melted butter), milk, and eggs. In the South, it's widely believed that sugar never belongs in traditional cornbread, but it is a popular addition for many people. The ingredients are combined and the batter is poured into a baking pan, muffin tin, or deep iron skillet and baked until the top is golden brown. However, hot water cornbread, which is also called corn pone, has a completely different method of preparation. 

First, ground cornmeal is combined with boiling water which is necessary to soften the firm granules. Then, a little salt, maybe some liquid fat, and sugar are added. The batter should be thick and firm. Instead of adding the batter to a baking pan, patties are shaped and formed by hand to resemble little pancakes. The cakes are cooked in hot oil or bacon grease until they are golden on both sides. 

The goal is to get the outside crisp while the inside stays soft which shouldn't take more than about 10 minutes total. They can be slathered with butter and honey or maple syrup for a sweet treat, eaten just like baked cornbread as a side dish, or used as a vehicle to sop up chili and beans. The minimal ingredients and quick fry time also make hot water cornbread much quicker to assemble and cook than classic cornbread.