I've been sick with bronchitis and asthma, and I've been feeling mighty low in spirits as a result. A long sickness does that to me. I'm doing better, but I'm still walking slowly and taking my time until I finally am all well. And finding little things to lift my spirits.
Like making cornbread.
A little history: my mom has baked cornbread all my life. Mom makes real cornbread, you understand: the kind with no sugar, baked in a cast iron skillet, coarse and corny. I never liked this stuff and did not eat it growing up, preferring the sweet, cakey versions you're most likely to encounter out in restaurants these days.
However, this last week I found myself poring over a favorite cookbook, Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread, & Scuppernong Wine, which has an entire chapter devoted to cornbread. I love this book because it reminds me of the stories my mom tells of her growing up surrounded by an extended family along the Ohio River in Kent, West Virginia. And suddenly I wanted--I needed--to make cornbread, just like Mom's, the cornbread I never liked.
So yesterday I stopped at Safeway after work, picked up some buttermilk and stoneground cornmeal, went home, mixed up some cornbread, and popped it in the oven in a hot cast iron skillet.
Then my house started to smell like cornbread and I almost cried.
Because I never actually liked this cornbread growing up, I never consciously noticed that warm scent that fills the kitchen while it bakes. I did yesterday, and the sensation was completely unexpected. I can only describe it in terms of cliches, I'm afraid: it felt like a big warm hug from my mom, welcoming me home. I genuinely felt teary.
I immediately called Mom to tell her that, even if this turned out to be the worst cornbread ever made by human hands, it was worth making just for this smell and the associated feelings that came with it.
But it wasn't the worst cornbread ever. In fact, it was delicious. Corny, coarse, the same bread I hated all growing up. Only now, inexplicably, I love it. And for some reason, it's soothed my spirit in a way that nothing has in a good while.