Shortnin’ Bread Meander

Today’s blog post began back in May, with a comment I made in response to Robbie Cheadle’s recipe for corn bread on her blog, “Robbie’s Inspiration”: #Flashfiction – Extra Nutrition.  I commented that my favorite corn bread is made in a cast-iron skillet, and she suggested that I share it. Naturally, I agreed. However, I can’t just plop a corn bread recipe on my writer’s blog apropos of nothing, so I’ll have to meander my way to it . . .

In the header photo, my mother and her twin sister are enjoying a tea party at the Economy Point farm in Nova Scotia. Their menu is lost to time, but let’s just pretend they’re eating shortnin’ bread. They are seated at the little red table my grandfather made them for playtime.

My little brother George and I also sat at that table for playtime, which often included listening to records. One of our favorites was American Folk Songs, in particular “Mama’s Little Baby Loves Shortnin’  Bread.”

I went to YouTube to find the version of the song I remember from childhood, only to discover that early recordings of the song are quite racist, as is John Whitcomb Riley’s poem based on the song.

So I’ll share Mississippi John Hurt’s version instead, as it conveys the innocent spirit of the song I remember from childhood. I’ll also share The Tractors’ rendition of the song because they completely transformed it to their signature style, yet the song is still recognizable. And, well, they’re The Tractors.

Shortnin’ bread could be made with either flour or cornmeal. Corn bread is also made with cornmeal. George and I ate our corn bread with lots of butter and molasses.

Corn Bread Waiting for Butter and Molasses

And here is my favorite recipe for corn bread!


160 thoughts on “Shortnin’ Bread Meander

  1. Being a native Kentuckian, cornbread is in my DNA. My recipe is almost identical though I always use white, stoneground cornmeal and the oil in the skillet is bacon fat.

    Love the Tractors video!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love this nostalgic piece! I appreciate that you reveal the darker side of the song, while sharing a brighter version that aligns with the carefree spirit of childhood.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Oh, the sweet memories, Liz! Tea parties with Sis and singing the old tunes… We still love cornbread and bake our family version (from the cornmeal box) whenever we bake beans (usually once a month! Loved the music and joined in with my own toe tapping! 🙂 Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I love the photo! My sister and I had curly hair like that, too. 😀

    I didn’t grow up with cornbread–and I imagine real shortnin’ bread often had or was fried in lard. But I do love it. I like to eat mine with honey.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Lovely post – and photograph. I have never eaten corn bread or shortnin’ bread. In fact I don’t think we have corn meal here in Ireland at all. But I love the recipe and am wondering if I could use Spelt flour instead? Or wholewheat? Do you know?

    Liked by 2 people

  6. What a great memory and photo. It’s amazing how many old-time things have racist undertones (or even overtones). Thank you for sharing Liz. I’m really enjoying the Tractors’ version of the song.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. This is a great story, Liz. The picture of your mother and her twin is really cute and I enjoyed the song which I hadn’t heard before. Thanks for this recipe. I believe that your corn meal is the same as our mielie meal and I’m going to give it a try.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I don’t believe I ever made cornbread from scratch, and I never made shortnin’ bread. Truth is, bread and I never had a friendly relationship. It never wanted to rise like it was supposed to if it needed a second rising. But I do love cornbread, however it arrives!! And I didn’t know the Tractors…my upbringing has been sorely lacking! Loved them!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Liz, your mom and her twin sister had so much fun playing and laughing. I could see you and your brother playing and doing things at that table also. What a wonderful memory! Your cornbread looks yummy and I liked that recipe! Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Liz,
    This is a wonderful story in so many ways. Your mom and aunt look like they’re having a great little party. I didn’t know anything about the song except the chorus which was part of a raunchy physical joke I learned as a kid (about breast size augmentation, if you can believe it). The Tractors version is such a hoot!

    I didn’t realize that shortnin’ bread is different from cornbread, but I notice it doesn’t have any wheat flour, which means it will be gluten-free – great for me – so I’ll have to try this recipe. But every corn recipe here gets some green chili added.😊

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This brought back many memories for me. My father would play the guitar and sing this song for us at the end of the evening. It was comforting and all about family to me. I just looked up the background on this song and found that it inspired many songwriters and singers. Your use of family history is poignant and inspiration, Liz, especially at this time when belonging and community bring peace and hope.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. A lovely memory, Liz. I remember warm cornbread made in a skillet and smeared with butter. Yum. Isn’t it great how certain foods can evoke such wonderful memories? Thanks for the song versions too, and the beautiful photo of your mother and her sister. This post left me with a smile. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. The minute I read the title to your blog post, I immediately hummed the song. I didn’t realize you would actually include the song, one of my childhood favorites, into your post. I loved the story and photo of the table, made by your grandfather and used by your mother and you. Somehow all of that, music and family memories, makes the recipe even better. Wonderful post, Liz. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I love the photo of your Mum Liz and I also love seeing your favourite recipe with all the little marks and stains! So evocative! Both types of bread are a mystery to me, on this side of the Atlantic… but I could give it a try 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  15. This was the most fun I’ve had reading a blog in a long time! Thanks, Liz. The Tractors had me dancing in my seat.

    And it was interesting to read your recipe. My mother was from Texas and my mother-in-law from Oklahoma, and they both used a recipe I still follow faithfully (and at least four times a year)—always in an iron skillet. Yours looks like mine!

    The differences are that their recipe calls for equal parts cornmeal and flour, uses just one egg, and substitutes melted bacon grease for the vegetable oil. And yes, it must be eaten with butter. My husband also adds molasses.

    Time to plan the menu for next week, and guess what’s going on it? I’ll think of you as I put it together.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you had fun with the post, Ranee!! I’ve never heard of putting flour in corn bread. I’d expect it would make for a finer texture.

      And you’re going to have corn bread on the menu next week!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You know, Liz, I’ve had corn bread from recipes where the proportion is three-quarters flour to one-quarter cornmeal, and that is definitely a fine texture. Sometimes they add sugar, and then it’s as though I’m eating cornmeal-flavored cake! But the half-and-half mixture keeps the texture quite crumbly and coarse, just the way we like it. I can hardly wait!

        Liked by 1 person

  16. Love this post!! Every creative life needs the reward of cornbread in the cast iron skillet!! I use a cast iron skillet from an earlier family generation and love the physical connection to the past. Great way to meander to the cornbread goodie!!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I love the way you meandered into that recipe! What do you think the cast iron does for the bread? How is it different than if you used a different type of pan?
    I did not know that about that song. Thanks for sharing the info!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Not sure if our Cast Iron pan came over on the Mayflower or not, but it’s a dang old one. A loaf of bread, Corn Bread, wet and dry, Bacon & Eggs, a ring of Apple Sausage in the winter, fried fish, and soft shell crabs, it cooks them all. A drop of soap has never entered that pan, scrub, boil, rinse, fill with water, boil again, re-oil, bake again at 450 deg. Like new, throughout the ages.
    Always enjoy your writing Liz.

    Liked by 1 person

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