The Importance of Cornbread

On college football nights in Louisiana there is a cheer for the home team that must boggle out-of-state fans: “Hot boudin, cold cush, cush; come on (name team) push, push, push.” (Both “cush” and “push” are pronounced to rhyme as in “swoosh.”)

Boudin, a country sausage generally made with pork, has become well known enough to be served at white table cloth restaurants. But what about the cush, cush?

There are variations of this dish globally, but in Louisiana it is a simple breakfast classic – cornbread and milk. The recipe is easy: first you get a cornbread; break it into pieces, put in a bowl and add milk. Now, the ultimate cush, cush, Louisiana-style, would have pieces of cracklings baked into the bread adding a touch of saltiness to the sweet taste, and a lot of crunchiness.

Cornbread comes to mind because of our cover story, which is about soul food, featuring recipes form three different restaurants. Soul food and southern rural cooking have common crossroads. The classic soul food sides, especially various greens, are enhanced by a square of cornbread suitable for dipping into the pot liquor. Cornbread makes them taste even better.

But be aware, I recently ate at a restaurant which listed cornbread as a side item. We asked for an order and were surprised that it had no taste, none, zero. Not even a swipe of butter could save it. This was such an offense that for the sake of posterity we had to tell the server who was shocked. She took the remaining bread back and then explained that someone must have made a mistake in the kitchen. Yes, I would think so. There was no charge for this side item.

By contrast, there was Mike Stark, a big man with a flowing red beard who typically wore some type of brightly colored tunic. He was also a minister of some sorts and a mask maker. He was best known as the “King of the Hippies” for whom he provided various social and medical help. Each New Years Day, Stark had an open house, at which the traditional black eyed peas and cabbage were served from his Marigny home. But the truly irresistible item was his cornbread. It remains the best I ever ate; perhaps the best ever made. I don’t remember all his ingredients. I think there was some sort of cream mixed in, but the real showstopper made the biggest difference. Imagine this: into his cornbread he put actual corn that enriched the bread with natural flavor and chewiness.

A good cornbread can have true soul. No matter whose soul it is.

Errol Laborde Signature

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