Grandma’s Buttermilk Cornbread


A couple nights ago I had a sudden and overwhelming desire to stuff my face full of my Grandma’s cornbread. It’s hard to explain if you didn’t grow up on cornbread, but the drive to consume it can be a powerful force. So powerful, in fact, that I actually made two pans full at ten thirty at night just so I could eat a huge wedge warm from the oven and have an untouched pan to take to a friend’s house the next day.

The smell of toasty corn bread baking up in a coal-black cast-iron pan is pretty close to one of the best things on earth. I have a Pavlovian response to the aroma of cornbread. By that, I don’t mean I bark and run around in circles, but I may have been caught panting and drooling and maybe even wagging my tail a time or two.

I’ll get it out o the way right now and say that cornbread is not sweet. That’s cake. Corn cake, if you want, but it’s cake. And I’m not saying that’s nasty, I’m just saying it’s not cornbread.

The cornbread I’m sharing with you today is the be all and end all of cornbreads to me.

My Arkansan grandma made this cornbread for me probably less often than I have in my memory, but often enough for it to define Grandma’s cooking in my mind. I know it was always at our Thanksgiving table, often in the stuffing, but just as often in a bread basket in gloriously big yellow squares. I remember getting a wedge from the cast-iron pan right after it was pulled from the stove; a sinfully large pat of cold butter melting and sliding right off of the top of the steaming bread.

When I was first married, I quizzed Grandma on why this was her favourite cornbread recipe of all. She grew up on a very plain cornbread; one that was almost pure cornmeal and water and a smidge of egg. No leavening, no nothing. It was a corn-lover’s dream, but very crumbly. She told me, “That bread crumbled if you looked at it.” As an adult, she got all that great corn-y flavour of the cornbread she knew and loved in a package that held together when she discovered the Buttermilk Cornbread recipe that she wrote out by hand for me.

I still have that recipe card, laminated and caked with flour over the years, written in Grandma’s own hand. Although I have it memorized, I still look at the card every time I prepare it. It’s like a sweet hug from Grandma.

Now, if you want to get really stratospherically happy, there really isn’t anything better than a pan full of Grandma’s Buttermilk Cornbread with a potful of bubbling hot beans. Oh mercy. Seriously. Just typing that sentence made me start drooling like a baby. That’s a complete meal in and of itself, but you can up the vegetable content by adding a BIG GREEN SALAD alongside it if you want.

The cornbread is equally at home accompanying chili or soup. More than once, I’ve used the cornbread batter to coat corndogs or top a casserole dish or chili for tamale pie. Most often, though, it’s a cast-iron skillet, a stick of cold butter, a fistful of napkins and me flying solo. Butter dripping down the sides of a steaming hot wedge of golden, fragrant cornbread and my fingers digging in to pull off piece after piece.Grandma said I could.

Thank you, Grandma!

Grandma’s Buttermilk Cornbread
As long as I live, there will not be anything that tempts me as powerfully as a hot-from-the-oven wedge of golden cornbread freshly taken from the cast-iron pan with a pat of cold butter melting and sliding right off of it.
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1½ cups yellow cornmeal (not self-rising)
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1¼ cups buttermilk
  • bacon grease or butter for the pan
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together all of the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and use a whisk to gently combine them, ensuring there are no dry pockets of cornmeal.
  3. Pour into a generously greased 8-inch or 10-inch cast iron skillet, preferably, or an 8-inch by 8-inch square cake pan, or 8-inch round cake pan. Pour the cornbread batter into the greased pan and bake for about 30 minutes, or until a skewer or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  4. Serve warm for best flavour. Leftovers can be stored -wrapped in a towel or plastic wrap- at room temperature for up to 48 hours, but will taste best if reheated slightly before serving. If your cornbread gets a little old and stale, crumble it and use for the best Cornbread stuffing that you will ever eat in your lifetime. Guaranteed.


  1. kate C. says

    I noticed you said you were going to bring a pan to your friend’s house. How does this taste the next day? The cornbread recipe I grew up on and make (similar to this, with maybe an extra T of sugar, a little more equal flour / cornmeal amounts, and oil instead of butter, maybe one less egg, I can’t remember now) does NOT really taste all that good the next day. It’s edible to crumble in chili or something, but even re-heated it’s just not that great.

    Does this recipe have left-overs that hold up better or is it still pretty much a normal quick bread in that regard?

    • says

      That is such a great question, Kate. The leftovers hold up very well, but as I recommended, taste best when reheated. I’d say one day leftover for best results, two days is pushing it a bit, but still pretty good. After that, I’d go for stuffing or crumbling in soup or chili. It does freeze well if wrapped tightly in plastic then foil. Give it a go and let me know what you think!

      • Wendy T says

        My friend taught me to eat it crumbled with milk and sugar on it. We used to make cornbread just to eat it that way. : )

  2. says

    Rebecca, I married a man with an Arkansan grandma, and I was blessed enough to be the only one in the family whom she let stay in the kitchen with her when she made cornbread—25 years ago! I’ve never quite gotten mine as delicious as hers, but she did bequeath me her ancient cast iron skillet, which helps. I think I need to go make some now, with a big pot of black eyed peas.

  3. Celia says

    Mmmm…this sounds a lot like my grandmother’s cornbread. I helped her make it quite a bit when I was growing up and I’m right there with you: hot from the pan with butter melting on it (and sometimes some honey if I’m eating it by itself with a big glass of milk) is sublime!

  4. says

    Grandma’s stuff always rocked, didn’t it. My grandmother made the best food ever in her farmhouse kitchen.

    I’m making up some cornbread tomorrow for a work function on Monday. I like mine a bit spicier with jalapeno and roasted red pepper, definitely not sweet.

  5. Amy says

    Reading all of these lovely comments about grandma’s and recipes from grandma’s make me smy wryly – my grandma was a TERRIBLE cook! In fact, it’s a family joke that if my mom’s white gravy turns out so thick that a spoon stands up in it (kinda like paste…which rarely happens, of course, heh heh…) we STILL tease my mom about her ‘Grandma Gravy’. Luckily my grandma on the other side was from the south, so I’ve been lucky enough to have had GOOD cornbread. Love the buttermilk in this recipe – and if I hadn’t just eaten an absolutely huge dinner I’d be trying it right now. With the ‘excuse’ of course, of ‘using up’ some of the gallon of honey I have sitting in my pantry from a beekeeping neighbor.

  6. Deanna says

    Heaven mercy! Try that left over cornbread crumbled into a glass with cold cold milk poured over the top! Now, that’s heaven in a glass!

  7. says

    I have a Johnny cake recipe that was my grandma’s. It’s so nice to have recipes from the family that have been passed down and put to good use. Your bread looks delicious Rebecca.

  8. says

    Yes, yes, and yes. :) Not cake. Cast iron skillet. Definitely buttermilk.

    I use the cast iron skillet my grandmother found as a yard sale as a newlywed. And the recipe is close to yours, but without the sugar. I also have grown to love the fine-sifted, stone-ground white corn meal of my grandfather’s home territory in the Florida panhandle.

    One of my proudest moments was talking the Waffleizer into waffling buttermilk cornbread and heaping it with pulled pork ( It’s one of my favorite ways to eat cornbread, right after eating it with a big bowl of pintos or succotash.

  9. bond says

    I just made a 10 inch black iron skillet of your corn bread. I pretty much followed the recipe…except I used 1 cup of yellow and 1/2 cup of stone ground white corn meal I got from the oldest continuously working grist mill in the state.

    The corn bread was amazing….best I have ever made (I am 73 yo–not a spring chicken) tomorrow I am using the left-over to make a corn bread stuffing. I am a relocated Yankee….but embracing my new southern community.

  10. Sarah Cline says

    This is just like my Arkansan Grandmother’s recipe too!!! No other corn bread hold’s a candle to this!!!!
    I moved from South Arkansas to Wyoming a few years ago & for high altitude I use two full cups of buttermilk, to keep it moist. Stuff tends to dry out up here.

  11. Sandy says

    Oh my! This is scrumptious! I made a double batch for my dressing tomorrow & have made a second double batch because I keep nibbling!


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