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Making Cornbread Memories

My Cornbread Memories

Janis Kearney shares beloved cornbread memories in preparation for this year’s Arkansas Cornbread Festival in SoMa this Saturday – October 27.

I can’t imagine there are many Arkansans without vivid cornbread memories. I have many. Most amazing for someone from Southeast Arkansas is that our meals did not usually include cornbread – though both my parents cooked delicious flour hoe cakes, breakfast biscuits and yeast rolls.

While the Kearney children rarely ate cornbread, there were some exceptions. Mama believed that it simply didn’t make sense to have beans or greens without cornbread. So, during the summer and fall seasons when we ate collards, kale, turnips or mustard greens – we also ate cornbread. During winter we ate black eyed peas, navy beans, pinto beans and brown beans with cornbread. My husband, who grew up in Southwest AR, swears that no card-carrying Southerner eats greens or beans without cornbread!

Ethel Kearney’s cornbread was delicious. I still remember the perfectly round, steaming hot skillets of cornbread being pulled from our wood stove – perfect in flavor, perfect in texture, perfect in aroma. Like most people, Mama rarely used white meal for her cornbread, dressing or the country grits we called “mush” – though yellow meal resulted in denser and heavier bread. Mama got around that, however, by halving her meal with flour, adding several tablespoons of bacon grease and one fresh egg. Her cornbread came out as moist and light as cake.

My favorite memories of eating cornbread are:

1) adding a thick slab of freshly churned butter to the still-hot bread

2) drenching the bread in Brer’ Rabbit syrup and freshly churned butter

3) crumbling the still-hot cornbread into a large glass of freshly churned buttermilk, to be eaten with a spoon.

With a houseful of mouths to feed, there was rarely leftover cornbread in our home. What has remained, are the cornbread memories that still make me smile.

Join us this Saturday for the annual Arkansas Cornbread Festival in SoMa and make some memories of your own.

Janis F. Kearney is an author, publisher and founder of the Celebrate! Maya Project, a nonprofit charity that honors the legacy of Maya Angelou through service to schools and communities. Janis was former publisher of the nationally renowned Arkansas State Press Newspaper, founded by civil rights legends Daisy and L.C. Bates. She also served as Personal Diarist to President William J. Clinton during five of the eight years of the Clinton Administration.

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