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Chef Bill goes South: cornbread in a skillet

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Getting really cool product samples is one of the big perks of seeking out or sourcing new purveyors for my biz. It’s quite a process to source any new products these days, especially if you’re searching wholesale prices with minimal or no delivery fees.

One company that intrigues me is Geechie Boy Mill. If any of y’all have lived or spent any time in the South Carolina low country, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the term Geechie Boy. It’s generally used to describe a person of African descent (but not always), usually a poor farmer, living on the southern barrier islands of South Carolina and Georgia. On the northern barrier islands, these same people were known as Gullah. The islands were developed as plantations where corn, rice, field peas and indigo were grown with slave labor. After the Civil War, the plantations fell into disuse and many of the antebellum strains of corn, rice and field peas were forgotten.

Happily, at least from a foodie standpoint, a few strains of these once-lost culinary treasures were rediscovered in old fields and farms by enterprising farmers, one of whom was an ex-moonshiner. Glenn Roberts, founder of Anson Mills, and Raymond L. Tumbleston, founder of Geechie Boy Mill, who bought and restored an old grist mill for the purpose of offering these products.

OK, enough history—back to me. Last week, I received this amazing sampler box of goodies from Geechie Boy Mill, now run by Greg and Betsy Johnsmans. Excitement does not begin to describe my feelings. Here’s just a few of the items they sent: three types of corn meal—one blue, one white and one yellow flint corn. Yes, that’s “flint”—the same kind of corn Native Americans grew! How’s that for offering only the highest quality heirloom varieties to my super-lucky guests? If you’re not excited by this, go back to your shoemaker-quality grocery store stuff and keep getting your grub from a drive-thru. C’mon, you’re better than that.

I’m in the process of making this iron skillet cornbread recipe with blue corn meal. I’ll let you know how it turns out. FYI, Geechie Boy Mill items are available by mail (geechieboymill.com), so you, too, can eat the best heirloom goods around.

 

Chef Bill’s Gluten-Free Skillet Bacon Corn Bread

Ingredients

• 1-1/4 cup fine stone-ground cornmeal, heirloom if possible

• 1-1/4 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour

• 1/2 cup scant sugar

• 1 Tbsp. baking powder

• 1/3 tsp. salt

• 1-1/4 cup buttermilk

• 4 oz. butter, melted

• 2 eggs

• 1 tsp. xanthan gum (if GF flour doesn’t contain any)

• 7 oz. raw bacon, small dice

 

Directions

1. Heat a 10” cast-iron skillet in a 400˚F oven.

2. Cook bacon until crispy; drain.

3. Sift together dry ingredients in a large bowl.

4. Mix wet ingredients in a separate bowl.

5. Mix that and the bacon in dry ingredients.

6. Grease the skillet with bacon fat.

7. Spoon batter into skillet, spread evenly.

8. Bake at 400˚F for 20 minutes or until golden-brown; insert a wooden skewer in the center–if it comes out dry, it’s done.

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