reading about a fight between two San
Antonio police detectives, a Galveston News editorial writer
soon expressed his indignation in print.
"People who are sworn to keep the peace and paid for executing the
laws do not always obey them," the anonymous journalist lamented
in his newspaper's Nov. 25, 1886 edition. "News comes from San
Antonio of a disgraceful row between two detectives, which commenced
in a saloon…One detective challenged the other outside for a fight
and then fired a pistol shot at him, which fortunately missed the
Neither officer had been seriously injured, but the Galveston
editor saw no need to dwell on that.
"These two worthies," he continued, "one of whom is credited with
being 'the finest detective in the state,'" are shining examples
of the material of which the police departments of cities are often
if not always composed."
Had the booze-fueled difficulty between two Alamo City cops arisen
over how to proceed with a criminal investigation? Rough handling
of a prisoner? Professional jealousy? Politics? A gambling debt?
No, the point of contention was more serious than any of those things.
According to the Galveston
article, the argument had been over "the relative merit of northern
and southern cornbread." Well, no wonder. Certain things are worth
fighting for. Everyone knows that southern cornbread, particularly
Texas cornbread, is superior to any cornmeal-based bread baked north
of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Other than overall quality, what is the difference between cornbread
prepared in the sunny South as opposed to Yankee cornbread? It's
simple: Southern cornbread then and now is baked without sugar.
Back in the day, way back in the day before the Emancipation Proclamation,
putting an expensive commodity like sugar in cornbread would have
seemed a foolish extravagance. After all, everyone understood that
all anyone needed to do to enhance cornbread was slather it in butter
and then pour on the molasses. Northerners, however, preferred cooking
their cornbread with the sugar included. Which makes it a cake,
Most early Texas settlers hailed from the South, so Texas cornbread
was prepared sans sugar. Only later did Texans start tampering with
tradition by Tex-Mex-ing cornbread with jalapenos and red peppers.
(A perversion in the minds of cornbread purists, as is folding kernels
of corn into the batter.)
Evidence supporting the sugar-free Southern preference is not hard
to find. Three years before the San
Antonio officers duked it out over cornbread correctness, in
1883 the First Presbyterian Church of Houston
published what is believed to be Texas's first cookbook. On page
66 is a recipe for cornbread:
"One pint of [corn] meal, mixed very thin with water, three eggs,
one tablespoon of lard, one-half tablespoon of butter, one teaspoon
of yeast powder, and a little salt. Have the pan greased and hot.
Bake in a quick oven. When the meal is fine, it is not necessary
to scald it."
While buttermilk is a better choice than water in preparing cornbread,
the Victorian era recipe makes no mention of sugar.
I cannot remember the first time I ever had a piece of cornbread.
Surely it must have been about as soon as I was able to eat solid
food. It would have been made by my late grandmother, who could
produce cornbread from scratch with about as much thought and effort
as someone expends in sticking a bag of popcorn into a microwave.
She had been cooking cornbread since before World
War One and continued to do so for as long as she had strength
to stir the ingredients, light the oven and lift a pan.
As a native Texan, I am embarrassed to admit that many decades passed
before I finally tried making cornbread with ingredients that didn't
come out of a box. Nothing to it, I thought. All you do is mix cornmeal,
flour, a little salt and some baking powder with an egg, milk and
When a norther blustered in recently, I essayed to produce a pan
of "home-did" cornbread muffins to go with Navy beans. I followed
the directions on the bag of meal, poured the batter into the pan
and baked my first-ever from-scratch cornbread for 15 minutes.
Graciously, I insisted that my significant other enjoy the first
golden brown muffin.
"Yum," she said. But then her face fell. "Did you put baking soda
Oops, instead of the can of Calumet baking powder I had grabbed
the Arm and Hammer baking soda box. When I took a bite, my from-scratch
cornbread tasted like it had been made with saltwater. The next
batch, mixed correctly, tasted just fine.
A lesser issue involves whether cornbread is baked in a round pan,
a square pan or muffin tin. And that brings to mind the only cornbread
joke I've ever heard.
An East Texas farm boy whose family considered cornbread an essential
element of any dinner (early Texas speak for "lunch") or supper
(early Texas speak for "dinner") was startled one day when his teacher
began explaining the geometric formula of pi r squared.
Frantically waving his hand to be recognized, he couldn't contain
himself. "No," he blurted defiantly. "Pie are round, cornbread are
square!" And not made with sugar.