05 October 2008

More about pone

Speaking of corn pone, the version we made tasted very good, no doubt about it. The main difference I see between my old recipes for cornbread and the one for this corn pone is that there's wheat flour in the bread but not in the pone. Cornbread is often or even usually made with about three parts meal and 1 part wheat flour — though adding flour is more a Northern than a Southern habit, according to everything I read. Maybe that's some kind of stereotype.

I think I forgot to mention that the book in which I found the pone recipe was a gift in September 1979 from a French woman I worked with as a graduate student and French teacher in Champaign, Illinois, all those years ago. Her name was Nelly, and if I remember correctly she was originally from the town of Châtellerault, which is fairly close to Saint-Aignan. I lost touch with her and her American husband, Chick, when we all left Illinois for other regions and countries — I was leaving that September for a stay of more or less indefinite length in France.

Nelly recognized a good American cookbook
when she saw one

Maybe a difference between corn pone and corn bread is the kind of corn meal that you use in one or the other. The recipe I used mentioned that it should be made with water-ground meal. Maybe that's the more commonly used kind of meal in the South. I think I used stone-ground white cornmeal, because that's what I had. I'm not too sure what the difference might be.

The cornmeal that BettyAnn brought me in May comes from Abbitt's Mill in Williamston, N.C. It's yellow, and on the package they specify that it is "unbolted." I'm not sure what that means. It is also stone-ground. The recipe for cornbread on the back of the package calls for just 4 ingredients: meal, salt, lard, and boiling water. I have to try that, since I have some lard in the fridge. (Incidentally, I hear that lard is all the rage now in certain trendy San Francisco restaurants. One chef reportedly serves it as a spread, like butter, to be eaten on bread.)

At the end of the day, as they say in England, I bet all these names — cornbread, corn pone, johnnycake, hoecake, ash cake, skillet bread, spider bread, and batter bread, not to mention hush puppies, corn dodgers, and spoon bread — are just regional variations, or names favored at different points in time, on what is basically the same thing. Some are made with eggs, some not. Some include wheat flour. Some add sugar. Some are cooked in an oven, others in a frying pan, and still others in a deep-fat fryer.

Here's a web page that says about the same thing: foodreference.com. Susie and Judy, I guess that is my answer to the question about any difference between cornpone and cornbread. Pone by any other name — cornbread, for example — smells as sweet.

You have to admit that the term "corn pone" is charged with strong cultural and social connotations.

It seems to be that in the South people have always made their cornbread/pone using white cornmeal, whereas in the North people preferred yellow meal. The meal from Abbitt's is yellow, however. All these things change over time and different products come and go.

This is my mother's recipe for Buttermilk Cornbread. Notice it has flour in it:
Mix together:

1½ cups cornmeal
¼ cup plain flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups buttermilk (or sour cream)
1 egg, beaten

Pour the batter into a generously greased and heated 9- or 10-inch cast iron skillet. Bake at 425ºF for 25 to 30 minutes.
Another book I have, Southern Food: At Home, On the Road, In History, by John Egerton, gives this recipe for corn pone. It's about the same as the one for cornbread on the Abbitt's cornmeal packaging:
Put 2 cups of plain white cornmeal in a mixing bowl, add 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of bacon grease, and then slowly stir in enough boiling water to make a mush that is thick and wet and substantial—neither stiff nor runny...
There is no mention of eggs, flour, baking soda, baking powder, or milk of any kind. The recipe goes on to say the corn mush can be shaped into patties and cooked on a griddle or in a skillet or on a backing sheet in a hot oven. It can also be cooked in a baking pan.


Tom, I've always known Harriett as a person of impeccable refinement and discernment. She's not one to let a little expression like "corn-pone" prevent her from enjoying the good things in this life. Do you think she'd be willing to share her recipe?

CHM, I've never had gaudes but reading about it/them makes me think of grits or polenta. I guess the torréfaction of the cornmeal or grits would make a nice difference in taste. I might try toasting some polenta in a dry skillet on the stove to see if that changes the taste after the polenta is cooked in water. And congratulations on the availability of greens. Yes, mustard greens are mighty good.

BettyAnn and Sam, I went to SuperU yesterday morning to look for semoule de maïs. No luck. I've never seen it on the shelves there. I asked at the customer service desk, but got only blank stares. I can find polenta, but that's more like grits than meal.

BettyAnn, I will be eternally in your debt for those two bags of cornmeal. I guess I need to bring the equivalent weight of goat cheese to you when I come to N.C. next winter.

Sam, we don't have bio (organic) food stores in Saint-Aignan. We're not that up to date — though the two larger supermarkets have organic-food sections. (Bio or biologique is the French term for "organic.")

This is the label from the package of finely ground
cornmeal that I found at Intermarché a few weeks ago.

Farine de maïs means "corn flower" and bio is organic.
Sans OGM = Sans organismes génétiquement modifiés.

Did you all notice that commenter Ben called Walt a "good old boy" the other day? For somebody who grew up in the capital city of the State of New York — not exactly "corn pone" country — that was hard to take. Now that you and Ben know that Walt and I like to cook and eat things like corn pone, well... you'll draw your own conclusions.


  1. As I recall, "gaudes" didn't taste like grits at all. No doubt, the "torréfaction" gave it/them that special taste. Certainly, the corn is toasted before it is ground. The difference would be like toasted bread as opposed to regular. I have no idea if my grandmother bought that "gaudes" meal in Paris or if she brought it back from Franche-Comté.

  2. Bonjour CHM, I looked a some more web sites and I see that gaudes really are cornmeal, but toasted. I found this recipe for a cake that looks good:

    Des Gaudes en gâteau

    - Un litre de lait
    - Une pincée de sel
    - 80 grammes de sucre cristallisé
    - 60 grammes de raisins de Corynthe
    - 50 g d'anis écrasé
    - Un peu de cannelle en poudre
    - Un verre à liqueur de bon rhum
    - Une cuillère à café de fleur d'oranger
    - 200 grammes de farine de maïs
    - Un verre d'eau froide

    Faire bouillir un litre de lait, ajouter une pincée de sel, le sucre cristallisé, les raisons de Corynthe, l'anis écrasé, la cannelle en poudre, le verre à liqueur de rhum et la fleur d'oranger.

    D'autre part, délayer 200 grammes de farine de maïs avec un verre d'eau en évitant les grumeaux.

    Verser cette bouillie dans le lait bouillant, en remuant constamment et doucement sur feu doux, laisser cuire environ 8 à 10 minutes.

    Beurrer et passer au sucre un moule à savarin ou à cylindre d'un litre de contenance.

    Y verser l'appareil et le mettre à refroidir dans un endroit bien frais pendant au moins trois heures (le mieux serait de le préparer la veille ou de le mettre au réfrigérateur).

    Démouler et servir bien froid.

    I would call it a cornmeal cake. I'm going to try in with some of my Loire Valley cornmeal.

  3. And I will be eternally grateful for even a little of your fabulous local goat cheese! Mwah!


  4. You made me curious about the word pone. This is what I found:

    modification of Virginia Algonquian appone

  5. Ken

    When I was a child, growing up on one of the islands on the east-coast of Africa, my mum used to make this cake ( as described in your comment). It was served as a snack with tea when we came home from school - a "filler" until it was dinner in the summer time in the tropics. She would put grated coconut on top and pre-cut it in a crisscrossed pattern. I believed that she used rose water in lieu of fleur d'oranger

    This brings back good memories.

  6. Cheryl, thanks for that. At first I thought pone might somehow be related to French pain (bread) but I found the same Native American origin you did. I think "pone" fell out of fashion because, in part, it is a non-English and, especially, an American Indian word, and it was replaced by the more standard bread. More respectable.

    TB, thanks for the idea of putting coconut on the cake. W. and I both love coconut. I think I might use some allspice instead of anise and some calvados instead of rum (because I have calva but no rum in the house).

  7. one thing I forgot. When she didn't have "anis" she would substitute crushed cardamon seeds instead.

  8. Can't wait to hear about the results of your version of "Gaudes en gâteau." And look at the finished product! I'm too far away to taste it!

  9. Aunt Cloe's Corn Pone Recipe
    Aunt Cloe lived in Parke County, Indiana her whole life (1888-1868).

    This is the recipe that she and my mom gave out. I say gave out, because it isn't exactly how they made it. I can't recall ever having buttermilk when we were growing up. What we had was milk that went sour. Everytime we had soured milk, we made corn pone. I use buttermilk, and it is just as good.

    2 c. buttermilk
    1/2 c. sugar
    1 t. baking soda
    1/4 t. salt
    1 c. flour
    2 c. corn meal

    Mix together till no lumps. Bake in greased pan at 350 degrees F for about an hour. The proverbial tooth pick should come out clean when it is done. It will probably puff up in the middle and crack. That is normal for this recipe. It is good with butter though we always had marjorine.

    Harriett (who knew Ken before he could make good rice)

  10. Merci Harriett. We must have had buttermilk at least sometimes when I was growing up but I bet my family more often used sour milk too. And we always ate margarine, not butter. The first time I ever remember having butter was in 1960 or so when we went to see my mother's famiy on the farm in South Carolina. They kept cows, milked them themselves, and churned their own butter. I remember thinking butter had a rich, almost overpowering taste and texture. I wish I could taste that butter again now. I bet it was really good.

    I'm going to make your recipe next. And I'm still working on my rice-cooking technique... 30 years later.

  11. I find using yoghurt diluted with milk actually makes the best buttermilk substitute. About 2 parts plain yoghurt to 1 part milk.


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