Meatless Monday: Tennessee corn pone

Corn pone is a Southern cornbread cooked in a round skillet or pan.

Nora Dunne
Tennessee corn pone baked with black beans and cheddar cheese makes a hearty and simple meal.

Back when vegetarians were considered obscure and eccentric, Laurel Robertson and her friends Carol Flinders and Bronwen Godfrey published “Laurel’s Kitchen.”

The 1976 “handbook for vegetarian cookery & nutrition” promulgated more than wholesome meatless eating. Through their anecdotal recipes, the women wrote
about community, slowing down, and countercultural gender roles. They invited more than a million cooks into their literary kitchen, “a sun-splashed room of wood and wicker, copper and crockery, bright colors and curling houseplants,” and helped make vegetarianism mainstream.

As a kid, I didn’t know any of the history behind the corn pone my mom frequently served. I just liked its crispy corn bread crust and gooey black bean filling. Turns out it was Laurel’s Tennessee Corn Pone.

When recreating Robertson’s dish, I cut the recipe in half, added cheddar cheese, and used canned black beans instead of the “very juicy cooked and seasoned beans (especially pinto or kidney)” she calls for. Her original directions vaguely state that the beans should be heated “until quite hot.” I translated this to mean “microwave them for a couple of minutes.”

More Tips:

I don’t usually have buttermilk on hand, so I substitute the real stuff with regular milk and white vinegar, 1 tablespoon of vinegar per cup of milk.

The cornmeal-milk-egg mixture will appear very liquidy, much thinner than typical cornbread dough since there is no flour in this recipe. To avoid messy spillage when sliding the uncooked corn pone into the oven set the round pan on a baking sheet.

Tennessee Corn Pone

Recipe adapted from “Laurel’s Kitchen,” by Laurel Robertson, et. al.
Serves 4

1 15.5-ounce can black beans
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon butter, melted

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Open can of black beans and drain about half the liquid. Do not rinse beans. Pour into a bowl and heat beans and remaining liquid for 2 minutes in microwave. Pour beans into a 9-inch round pan and sprinkle cheese on top.

Mix the cornmeal, baking soda, and salt in a medium sized bowl. Melt the butter and combine with buttermilk and egg. Stir the wet and dry ingredients together until smooth and pour over the warm beans and cheese.

Bake on the top rack of oven until corn bread is a rich golden color, for about 25 minutes.

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Nora Dunne is a Monitor contributor.

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