MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- There are about three dozen varieties of corn bread in the South; and it is rare to come across a real Southern restaurant that doesn't serve it in one of its wondrous forms. There is basic corn bread, baked as individual rolls or in muffin tins, with or without cracklin's (chewy nuggets of baconlike pigmeat), jalapeno peppers or Cheddar cheese. There are corn dodgers, hush puppies and corn sticks cooked in old-fashioned tins that yield fat tubes of bread that resemble miniature ears of corn. And there are innumerable varieties of spoon bread, which is a soufflelike "bread" served with a spoon and eaten with a fork.
One of our favorite varieties is served in the mid-South in &L Tennessee and parts of Kentucky and usually goes by the plain and generic name corn bread, giving unsuspecting customers no clue that they have a treat in store when they order it. The kind of corn bread we are talking of is cooked on a well-greased grill, and is essentially a big, steamy pancake, but served at noon instead of in the morning, as the companion to such lunch fare as baked ham, catfish, fried chicken or country-fried steak.
This corn bread, a.k.a. corn cake, is best when served hot off the griddle in a fast-moving cafeteria line, so that a glob of margarine rTC or butter set atop it is half melted by the time you get your tray to a table in the dining room. You can eat it politely with a fork, or you can tear off pieces and use them to mop up barbecue gravy or to dip in a dish of turnip greens and potlikker.
A great place to eat such corn bread, as well as most of the other luscious specialties it accompanies so well, is a small cafeteria in Memphis known as Mamie's, after its founder, Mamie Gammon, who is something of a culinary legend in Memphis. Mamie's menu includes a large roster of Southern-style vegetables, including swoonfully tender candied yams, beets in
orange sauce, powerhouse turnip greens and her own version of dirty rice, enriched with giblets. There are rolls and muffins, mighty meatloaf, and banana pudding or fried pies for dessert. And there are corn cakes nearly every day -- hot and toothsome, a great companion to a full meal or a simple bowl of vegetables.
Tennessee corn bread
Makes 12 pieces corn bread (serves four to six).
2 eggs, well-beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup milk
1 cup white cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
about 1/2 cup water
butter or margarine for frying
Combine all ingredients in order listed, adding just enough wateto get a batter that's like pancake batter -- pourable but not too thin.
Melt a generous amount of butter on a griddle or in a large skillet over medium heat. Pour out batter to create 4-inch diameter cakes. Fry until light brown. Turn and fry other side, adding butter if necessary. Continue until all batter is used. Serve immediately, topped with pats of butter or margarine.
Mamie's, 219 Madison, Memphis, Tenn. 38103; (901) 526-2063.