Thanks, Norma, for your cornbread
Written by KAREN NADLER COTA Sentinel Lifestyles Editor
Tuesday, 07 May 2013 10:26
GRAND RAPIDS - Sometimes a really good recipe will travel all the way around the world.
|Ali Wirt with her honey-butter cornbread. (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
That's practically the case for Ali Wirt's delectable cornbread, a family treasure obtained a generation ago from a neighbor when they lived in Hawaii.
To this day, Wirt and her kin all refer to it as Norma's Cornbread, in that woman's honor.
"Norma was our neighbor in Waipahu, Hawaii and a wonderful cook," says Wirt. "Her mother was full blood Sioux Indian and her dad was of Scandinavian ancestry. I believe this is her mother's recipe."
Wirt was just a toddler at the time. "We lived in Hawaii when my dad was in the Navy; I was born there. But the recipe has been in our family ever since then.
"My two sisters and one brother - all three of them make it."
Wirt, in turn, has made the cornbread for her own family, including children 20, 15, 13 and 9, "and for my husband's family. In fact, it's become a staple for them too."
One year, her husband and her son both entered Norma's Cornbread in a chili cookoff at their church, with her son tweaking the recipe just a bit, "and they took first and second place."
The other weekend, seemingly the entire town of Grand Rapids got a chance to try the treat, when Wirt served it at A Drop Of Honey, the downtown honey boutique owned by her best friend, Emily Householder.
"I said 'You know, you need something to serve with Spring Fling coming up,' so I made her some cornbread to give away."
Regular customers and first-time visitors to the store were equally enthusiastic.
"They really, really seemed to enjoy it - especially with the honey butter on it."
In fact, "many people asked for the recipe."
But Wirt didn't have a copy with her, and wouldn't have passed it out that day even if she had. "I had to ask my mother first because it's really a family recipe."
Luckily for Cook's Corner readers, mom has given Wirt her blessing to disseminate the recipe in The Sentinel-Tribune.
What makes this cornbread so fantastic that everyone who tastes it immediately abandons any other recipe they ever used?
"I like it because it's a sweet cornbread," says Wirt. "My husband and I, when we were first married, lived in South Carolina and Georgia, and we had the opportunity to taste other cornbreads," since it's a popular food throughout the South. "This is still our favorite."
The original recipe, courtesy of "Norma," called for granulated sugar as an ingredient.
"I didn't begin using honey in it until I met Emily.
"Our husbands have been friends since birth. Her husband is a second-generation beekeeper and my husband helped him since they were wee ones. Through Ronald I met Emily and we became best friends."
Wirt loves that her friends' honey "isn't adulterated in any way; it's pure honey. You can smell the honey when the cornbread is baking."
The Householders opened A Drop Of Honey last October, just two days before the Applebutter Fest.
Wirt currently lives in Findlay and has a regular job in a before-and-after-school program at Liberty-Benton Public Schools.
But on busy tourist days in Grand Rapids - like the Applebutter Fest, pre-Christmas season, and now Spring Fling, she comes into the honey boutique to help her friend out.
Along with the cornbread, Wirt made up a few other treats to pass out in the store at town's first-time spring festival.
"I made a honey mustard that people could try with pretzels and carrot sticks; and a honey lemonade, which seems to be a crowd favorite.
"My own favorite was honeycomb with a bite of parmesan cheese and a little slice of apple. It was just delicious."
Those who opt to make the cornbread this week will be glad to know that "it's a pretty straightforward, easy recipe.
"I generally keep an eye on it to watch for the golden brown color while it's baking. Some like it more golden, some a little deeper."
Although her father started out as a Navy man, he soon switched to a career in the foreign service that saw Wirt's family moving to India, then later to Jordan, Bulgaria, Saudi Arabia, "and our last posting was Germany, where I graduated from high school.
"So I learned to love the foods of many cultures, but Norma's cornbread is still one of my favorites."
Mix together dry ingredients:
1 cup flour
1⁄2 tsp. salt
4 tsp. baking powder
1 cup yellow cormeal
In separate bowl mix:
1⁄4 cup honey
1 cup milk
1⁄4 cup vegetable oil
1⁄2 cup brown sugar
Gradually stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients. Pour into greased 8-by-8 pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes, until edges are golden brown.
Note: I suggest serving the cornbread with honey butter:
1 cup honey
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar