I love the Northwoods of Minnesota along the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. It's a place where you can slowly paddle by a watching moose at the water’s edge, share a hiking trail with a black bear or a wolf, and find lake after lake full of smallmouth bass, walleyes, pike, and lake trout. It's a true outdoor lover’s paradise, but there are a couple areas our northern friends can use some help with, including sweet tea and good cornbread.
Sweet tea is a foreign concept at restaurants that far north and the cornbread, while tasty, is more like a sweet cake when compared to its southern cousin. Luckily, when our cravings for good cornbread get strong, we just cook up a pone in an iron skillet. Even better, when we find ourselves in a spot with a fireplace like our cabin at Gunflint Pines, we cook the cornbread directly over the coals for added smoky flavor.
You can also cook the cornbread over the coals of an open campfire, but you will need something to reflect the heat back down on the top to help it cook evenly. Placing heavy duty aluminum foil over cardboard and suspending over the cornbread works in a pinch.
The finished product isn’t as pretty as what you would make in the oven, and while it takes a bit longer to cook, the flavor is worth it.
We start by heating our skillet over the coals, then adding a thin layer of bacon grease to the skillet both for flavor and to keep the cornbread from sticking. Spread the logs out to each side of the fireplace, leaving a bed of coals between them. Use the fireplace grate or some fresh split firewood to support the skillet just above the coals to prevent the bread from burning on bottom. Cooking times will vary depending on the temperature of the fire, but plan on up to double the suggested cooking time for the recipe.
2 cups self-rising corn meal
1 ½ cup whole milk or buttermilk
4 slices thick-cut bacon, cooked and diced
4 tablespoons bacon grease, divided
1 large egg, beaten
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
Cook the bacon in a separate skillet, reserving the bacon grease.
Place a 10” iron skillet over the coals to heat while you mix the batter. In a bowl, mix the corn meal, milk, egg, bacon, 2 tablespoons bacon grease, and sugar (optional). Stir well. Add 2 tablespoons of bacon grease to the skillet.
Swirl to coat all surfaces. Pour in the batter. Place the skillet on a rack or on logs above the coals. Bake for 40-60 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the cornbread is cooked through.
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