My Arkansas, Then And Now

My Arkansas, Then And Now

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Artie's Kitchen

The wonderful aroma of homemade cornbread is unforgettable. It instantly evokes—for me—images of the small 12’ x 12’ space that was my grandfather Artie’s kitchen. It is a memory I’ll never forget.

My brother and I spent hours there.

A red and white-checked oil cloth covered the small table that rested on the bare wood floor that creaked and moved under your feet. The table, nestled against the back wall under one of two sets of windows in the small room, would seat two or maybe three—four if pulled away from the window. Although, I don’t recall Artie having four straight-back chairs to use, not in those later years. A brown paper bag full of gingerbread cookies (grandfather’s favorite), two old salt-and-pepper shakers and (when he made them) a bowl of hard-boiled eggs took up their place on the table. Everything illuminated by a single bare ceiling bulb with a dangling chain for the on/off switch.

This small eating nook shared the space with a refrigerator, gas stove, a well-used white porcelain sink, a few mostly-bare cabinets and an ancient baker's cabinet, all basic white in color. Other items may have resided in that room, I can’t recall at the moment. But the décor wasn’t tops in my memory, it was the cornbread, cracklin’ corn bread to be exact.

Cracklin’ Corn bread was made in that kitchen by my grandfather. It was the basic, hearty, firm, hot and delicious variety, cooked to perfection (well, close, anyway) in his large, black cast-iron skillet. To this very day, I’ve been unable to duplicate it, nor have I found a recipe that could bring back those flavors, that aroma. This one comes close. Close, mind you. Only close.

Old Cotner-Style Arkansas Cracklin’ Cornbread

¼ cup of bacon or pork slab drippings
2 cups of yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons of baking soda
1 teaspoon of salt
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups of buttermilk
¾ to 1 cup of cracklin’s (that’s “cracklings” in most areas outside of Arkansas, I guess)

Heat a large cast-iron skillet until it is hot. (A 10” to 12” skillet should do just fine.)
Combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
Stir in the eggs and buttermilk.
Add the cracklin’s and hot drippings.
Pour the batter into your hot skillet.

Bake at 450 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. (May vary depending upon altitude and oven, although I don’t know this for a fact, just saying.)

Should serve about 5 or 6 very hungry folks. Could yield up to 8 or 10 servings for not-so hungry ones. Give it a try.

Serve as-is, hot from the pan, with butter, with butter and honey, with beans. Enjoy it however you prefer.

If you have a cracklin’ cornbread recipe you’d like to share, please post it here or drop me an email. I can keep it a secret if you like, or post it here for all to share. Your choice. I would like to hear from you.

Now, off to the kitchen. I’ve made myself hungry.


  1. Great recipe--hope you'll share more!

  2. My brother, David, just reminded me of an incident in that kitchen about our Grandfather Artie, a glass of milk, and a granddaddy longlegs spider. I'll see if I can get him to post it.

  3. My sister, Janet, wrote to me and reminded me that Artie used to keep a good supply of Coca-Cola in that old, white refridgerator. The small, greenish-blue glass bottles with the red and white caps--the caps that required a bottle-opener to get off (no pop-tabs or screw-on caps back then.)

  4. There's nothing like a big hunk of cornbread slathered with butter. And using bacon drippings is the ONLY way to make it! Yum!

  5. O.K., here's the story of the spider in short, but still gagging good. The entire family, mom, dad, Janet, Jack, and myself, along with Artie were sitting around that small table, circa 1958,eating supper when, one of us looked up and noticed a grandaddy long leg spider in the bottom of Artie's glass as he turned it up to drink. We pointed it out to him and he took a look. A glint in his eye and a grin on his face, he turned up the glass again and drank the rest of the milk, leaving the spider in the bottom. Needless to say we all were horrified, especially our mother who was very fearful of spiders. I must say, our dad wasn't horrified, he just laughed at us. Still to this day, all my glasses are stored in the cupboard top down.

  6. Another kitchen adventure involved me and Janet in 1966. We were in the kitchen sitting at that table, probably drinking a coke and snacking when a copperhead snake crawled out from under the stove. I don't remember how I did it, but I jumped up and grabbed Artie's hunting/butcher knife from the drawer and nailed that snake to the floor, catching him right behind his head. I left him there for Artie to find the next morning, expecting to get my butt chewed for putting the knife into his floor, but to my surprise, the snake and all evidence was gone when I got up in the morning. By mid-morning, I couldn't stand it any longer, so I asked Artie about finding the snake. He simply acknowledged he found it and cleaned up the mess, but no fireworks. Guess he was either concerned or embarrased although I never knew of our grandfather being embarrased about anything.

  7. About that kitchen again. I'm sure our mother holds the record for the fastest passage through that room. In 1957 we were visiting from Oklahoma and my mother was in the living room cleaning up. I was outside by the back door, just outside the kitchen when I heard a loud screaming skreech from my mother that started in the living room and rapidly came through the next room and into and out of the kitchen through the door and stopped outside by me. I was very shaken. I asked mom what was wrong, but she was now so terrified she couldn't speak. After a minute or so she murmered...spider! Turns out she picked up the Sunday moring newspaper and as she did, a very large tarantula spilled out.

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