Cornbread, like pie, are round. Warning: this is Southern cornbread, meaning that it has never been within six feet of the flour-barrel. If you want fluffy Northern cornbread, seek elsewhere. (Northern cornbread can be delicious. It just isn’t what’s presented here.)
You will need:
A cast-iron skillet. (Making cornbread this way will go a long way toward seasoning it. Trying to do it with anything but cast iron will ruin your skillet and waste your time.)
Cornmeal. (How much? Enough. Measuring is for wimps. Start with a generous double handful.)
Baking powder. (How much? Depends on how fresh it is.)
Milk. In order of preference: Clabber (the precursor to buttermilk), whole milk, buttermilk. Do not try this with skim milk (“2%”, bah).
Turn the oven on preheat. You want a very fast oven (400° Fahrenheit or better).
Fry bacon until the skillet is about 3/8″ deep in bacon grease. You may eat the bacon afterward if you like, but that isn’t the point of this exercise — in fact it’s OK to go ahead and over-crisp the bacon to get enough grease. It always amazes me that people miss this point about Southern American cooking. Eating the bacon is just to avoid wasting food; the point is the cooking grease.
Put the cornmeal in a bowl. Pour part of the bacon grease over it and stir until it forms a mass. Leave the rest in the skillet. Stick the skillet in the oven to keep it hot.
By that point the mixture should be fairly cool. Add enough milk to make it gooey, which also cools it enough that it doesn’t pre-cook the egg.
Make a hole in the top of the mixture, add the egg, beat it with a fork until liquid, then stir it in. (Or you can beat the egg in a separate container, but you’ll just have to wash that, too.)
Add baking powder. If it’s fresh, you want about half of enough to cover your palm. If it’s old, more (you have to use your judgement).
A little salt won’t go amiss.
Add enough more milk to make it pourable.
Take the skillet out of the oven and pour in the mixture. It should sizzle a bit. Put it in the oven and bake until the top is golden-color, with golden-brown around the edges. If you did it right, it will be about three times as thick as the mixture was deep when you poured it in. (If it didn’t rise enough, you’ll have to taste it to see what’s wrong for next time. If it’s bitter, you didn’t put in enough milk or the oven wasn’t hot enough (probably the latter). If it isn’t bitter, you didn’t use enough baking powder.)
Serve hot, with butter. Easy-peasy.
ADDENDUM: This a poor-people recipe, fuel for a morning in the fields. Wheat-flour biscuits, if attainable, are for company; yeast-rising bread is for Sunday company. That’s also why you beat the egg in the mixture, not separately — you probably don’t own another bowl to beat the egg in.
The egg should be fresh — you send a young’un out to grab one from the hen-house while you’re getting the cornmeal. The milk should not. Yesterday’s leftover milk, unrefrigerated overnight, has the faint bitter taste that tells you it’s starting to go “off”. Perfect!