Jeremy Jackson, The Cornbread Book (William Morrow, 2003)

"Lookit, I'm tired of being bullied by those self-absorbed biscuit aficionados, and I don't care what the Pan-American Pancake Association says: cornbread, and only cornbead, is the American bread." — (page 2)

In spite of the best efforts of authors and their editors, reading a cookbook is generally a very dry experience. In fact, I can't honestly say I've actually read a cookbook before. Usually after the first few pages of some chef assuring me that their book or cooking style is revolutionary, and is bound to improve my life or my health, I just yawn and skip to the recipes. Obliged to give a fair review of The Cornbread Book, I knew this time I was going to have to actually read a cookbook, and I wasn't really looking forward to it. But, since I love to cook, and cornbread is one of my favorite things to eat, I thought I could suffer through the selling portion to get to the important stuff.

I need not have worried. The introductory portion of this cookbook is short, but it's no mercy because Jeremy Jackson is one of those rare nonfiction writers who doesn't take himself, his subject, or his audience too seriously. Consequently, he drew me in with that odd first paragraph about doorknobs, telemarketers, and pancakes. It was almost with regret that I reached the end of what should have been a sleep-inducing history of cornbread, and embarked on my cornmeal cooking adventure.

In explaining how I chose the recipes I wanted to try for the purposes of reviewing this book, it is important to note that The Cornbread Book is a misleading title. Jeremy Jackson admits that his definition of cornbread is broader than most. In fact, almost any recipe that includes cornmeal as a key ingredient might be found in The Cornbread Book. For instance, Jackson's chapter on "Sweet Cornbreads" includes, among other surprises, recipes for cookies, a cobbler, cakes, churros, biscotti, pudding, and a pie crust.

"Sweet Cornbread" is the first recipe in Jeremy Jackson's book. I have been making the same cornbread recipe for practically forever, and I'm pretty happy with it. Of course, I couldn't review a The Cornbread Cookbook without trying at least one recipe from the "Basic Cornbread" chapter. To my surprise, Jackson's recipe cooked up more attractively, evenly, and with a better texture than the cornbread I've been so happy with for so long. However, I still prefer the flavor of my old cornbread, so next time I'm going to try combining elements from the two recipes.

I'm always looking for cookie recipes that I can make with ingredients I have on hand, so "Crinkle-Top Sugar Cookies" was a natural choice for my next cornmeal recipe. I was feeling adventurous the day I made these, so I asked my not quite three-year-old to help out. When all was said and done, my kitchen floor was coated in a fine dust of cornmeal and all-purpose flour, and we had two dozen of the tastiest sugar cookies I've ever made.

Finally, I made "Tamale Pie," which is casserole composed of ground beef, veggies, and spices all mixed together, covered with a layer of cornmeal biscuit batter, and baked. It was yummy and easy to make, and has since become a regular meal at our house.

Don't tell my husband, but Jeremy Jackson is my kind of man. He's funny, actually enjoys cooking, and is pleasantly obsessed with a food I happen to love. According to the introduction of his book, he's also looking for a wife. I hope that The Cornbread Book meets with the success it deserves. A cookbook that actually entertains its readers is a rare thing, about as rare as trying three new recipes from the same book and having all of them work out beautifully.

[Christine Doiron]

Visit Jeremy Jackson's Official Web Page.