Cornbread.Photo: Tristan FerneMy wife Kim’s family had different food traditions, including oyster stew and tamales. But the best tradition from her side of the family, and the one that made it so easy for us to combine our holiday traditions when we married almost 25 years ago, was cornbread and beans.

Kim’s mother and grandmother both used Jiffy Mix for their cornbread, but Kim married a chef, so now we make it from scratch and eat it with beans every Christmas Eve. It’s a fitting counterpoint to the the rich, luxurious feast we’ll have the following day, and it reminds us of a time not so long ago when our families could afford no more than cornbread and beans for their holiday supper.

To keep with family tradition, the cornbread must be served warm, sliced horizontally, and spread with butter (not margarine). The beans must be navy beans, cooked simply in salted water, and ladled piping hot over the buttered cornbread. The dish is then garnished with diced yellow onions, hand-chopped pickled hot peppers, and white vinegar.

Though it divides in half easily, this cornbread recipe makes a large batch, in case you’re planning to have a crowd of family and many friends surrounding your holiday table this year.

Iowa Sweet Cornbread

3 cups stone ground cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk plus 1 tablespoon vinegar)
1/2 cup butter or lard, melted
1/2 cup Monterey jack cheese, shredded, optional
4 scallions, sliced, optional


Preheat oven to 425 degrees and grease a pyrex dish (8″ x 10″ x 4″ or equivalent).

Combine all dry ingredients thoroughly in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the beaten egg, buttermilk, and melted butter or lard. Add the liquid to the dry mix (and add the cheese and scallions, if desired) and fold to combine until just evenly moist.

Spoon the mixture into the greased dish and bake in center of oven for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean.

Allow it to stand for 15 minutes before serving. Makes 10-12 healthy portions.