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SEASONAL RECIPE

Recipe: The late Edna Lewis, one of the great American chefs, made her cornbread in a cast-iron skillet

Edna Lewis's Sour Milk Cornbread
Edna Lewis's Sour Milk CornbreadSheryl Julian for The Boston Globe

Makes one 10-inch cornbread

The late Edna Lewis was one of the great American chefs and authors, known for the Southern cooking she learned as a girl in rural Orange County, Va. She grew up in Freetown, which had been founded by her grandfather, an emancipated slave, and a group of friends. Born in 1916, Lewis learned early to harvest crops and feed chickens, she explained in the 2006 film made about her, "Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Pie," released the year she died. "I lived among a group of women who were all good cooks," she said in the film. "Cooking was simply a part of my life." Lewis left home at 15 and went to New York City. There, she eventually became chef of Cafe Nicholson on the East Side. "All the famous Southerners would come," she said in the film, including celebrated authors William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, and Truman Capote. Miss Lewis, as she was known to everyone, was famous for her buttermilk biscuits, made with lard and single-acting baking powder she made herself because she didn't like the metallic taste of double-acting (to make single-acting mix 4 tablespoons cream of tartar, 2 tablespoons baking soda, and 3 tablespoons cornstarch); peppery cheese straws with sharp cheddar; a Virginia ham that soaked for three days and cooks for five hours; and a Brunswick stew she preferred to simmer with rabbit or squirrel. In the 2003 book, "The Gift of Southern Cooking," which she wrote with Scott Peacock, a young white chef who became her companion, the duo offers this recipe for Sour Milk Cornbread baked in a hot cast-iron skillet. Food bloggers love this formula, which isn't made with a trace of sweetness, but with plenty of salt. "Like all Southern cornbreads," write the authors, "it has no sugar -- that's a Yankee thing." The taste depends on the quality of the cornmeal, so use a stoneground variety. The recipe calls for white cornmeal (hard to find in the North; yellow works well) and Lewis's single-acting baking powder (here we use double-acting from a tin). The warm cornbread, with a slight custardy texture and faint sour-milk taste, is undoubtedly only an approximation of what Lewis would have served, but you can probably say that about everything you make and compare to hers. SHERYL JULIAN

cups fine-ground white or yellow cornmeal
1teaspoon salt
1teaspoon baking powder
cups buttermilk or sour milk (to sour milk, mix 1 3/4 cups milk with 2 teaspoons each lemon juice and cider vinegar)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1. Set the oven at 450 degrees. Have on hand a 10-inch cast-iron skillet (or another heavy skillet of the same size with a heatproof handle).

2. In a bowl that will hold all the ingredients, stir the cornmeal, salt, and baking powder.

3. In another bowl, stir the buttermilk or sour milk and eggs together. Stir the liquids into the cornmeal mixture until the batter is smooth.

4. Put the butter into the skillet and transfer to the oven. Let it sit for about 2 minutes, or until it melts. Remove the skillet from the oven and carefully swirl it around so the butter coats the pan all over.

5. Pour the batter into the skillet and return the skillet to the oven. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the bread is just firm to the touch and golden brown.

6. Remove the skillet from the oven and set it on a rack. Let it sit for 5 minutes. Cut the cornbread into wedges.

Adapted from "The Gift of Southern Cooking"

Makes one 10-inch cornbread

The late Edna Lewis was one of the great American chefs and authors, known for the Southern cooking she learned as a girl in rural Orange County, Va. She grew up in Freetown, which had been founded by her grandfather, an emancipated slave, and a group of friends. Born in 1916, Lewis learned early to harvest crops and feed chickens, she explained in the 2006 film made about her, "Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Pie," released the year she died. "I lived among a group of women who were all good cooks," she said in the film. "Cooking was simply a part of my life." Lewis left home at 15 and went to New York City. There, she eventually became chef of Cafe Nicholson on the East Side. "All the famous Southerners would come," she said in the film, including celebrated authors William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, and Truman Capote. Miss Lewis, as she was known to everyone, was famous for her buttermilk biscuits, made with lard and single-acting baking powder she made herself because she didn't like the metallic taste of double-acting (to make single-acting mix 4 tablespoons cream of tartar, 2 tablespoons baking soda, and 3 tablespoons cornstarch); peppery cheese straws with sharp cheddar; a Virginia ham that soaked for three days and cooks for five hours; and a Brunswick stew she preferred to simmer with rabbit or squirrel. In the 2003 book, "The Gift of Southern Cooking," which she wrote with Scott Peacock, a young white chef who became her companion, the duo offers this recipe for Sour Milk Cornbread baked in a hot cast-iron skillet. Food bloggers love this formula, which isn't made with a trace of sweetness, but with plenty of salt. "Like all Southern cornbreads," write the authors, "it has no sugar -- that's a Yankee thing." The taste depends on the quality of the cornmeal, so use a stoneground variety. The recipe calls for white cornmeal (hard to find in the North; yellow works well) and Lewis's single-acting baking powder (here we use double-acting from a tin). The warm cornbread, with a slight custardy texture and faint sour-milk taste, is undoubtedly only an approximation of what Lewis would have served, but you can probably say that about everything you make and compare to hers. SHERYL JULIAN

cups fine-ground white or yellow cornmeal
1teaspoon salt
1teaspoon baking powder
cups buttermilk or sour milk (to sour milk, mix 1 3/4 cups milk with 2 teaspoons each lemon juice and cider vinegar)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1. Set the oven at 450 degrees. Have on hand a 10-inch cast-iron skillet (or another heavy skillet of the same size with a heatproof handle).

2. In a bowl that will hold all the ingredients, stir the cornmeal, salt, and baking powder.

3. In another bowl, stir the buttermilk or sour milk and eggs together. Stir the liquids into the cornmeal mixture until the batter is smooth.

4. Put the butter into the skillet and transfer to the oven. Let it sit for about 2 minutes, or until it melts. Remove the skillet from the oven and carefully swirl it around so the butter coats the pan all over.

5. Pour the batter into the skillet and return the skillet to the oven. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the bread is just firm to the touch and golden brown.

6. Remove the skillet from the oven and set it on a rack. Let it sit for 5 minutes. Cut the cornbread into wedges.Adapted from "The Gift of Southern Cooking"