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Cornpone is a type of corn bread made without eggs which is popular in the Southern United States, where it is often served and eaten with potlicker.[1] Cornpone is also known as johnnycake.

Cornpone is emblematic of the region, where it is considered a comfort food. In Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer, Detective, Tom says

It was good to be there again behind all that noble corn-pone and spareribs, and everything that you could ever want in this world. Old Uncle Silas he peeled off one of his bulliest old-time blessings, with as many layers to it as an onion...[2]

As a simple food, made with inexpensive ingredients requiring no refrigeration, it is associated with low-income, rural life. In speeches, politicians may express affection for it to show that they are men of the people. In 1931, Louisiana governor Huey Long briefly made the national news by disputing the proper way to prepare and eat cornpone and potlicker. Long maintained that cornpone is dunked in the potlicker. The editors of the Atlanta Constitution insisted that it is crumbled into the potlicker, not dunked, and that "cornpone that can be dunked is not genuine cornpone."[3]

Outside the South, "cornpone" is used to symbolize that region. It can be used as an adjective, meaning "deliberately folksy." Thus, the Boston Globe, reviewing Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, suggested an actress in that series

has done fine TV work, including a stint on "Deadwood," but she has too much sweetness and melodrama... She needs to make Harriet edgier, with a more biting sense of humor, to show that ruthless comedy can coincide with Christian belief. She's too cornpone to be the star of the show's version of "Saturday Night Live."[4]

Cornpone was a staple in the diet of the pioneers who traveled on the Oregon Trail in covered wagons; so much so that it was considered one of the hardships. A folksong "Great Grand-dad when the Land was Young," uses it to symbolize rugged independence:

  He was a citizen, tough and grim;
  Danger was duck soup to him.
  He ate corn pone and bacon fat—
  Great grandson would starve on that![5]

Notes and references

  1. The liquid left after boiling collard, mustard, or turnip greens. Also called potlikker or pot liquor.
  2. Twain, Mark, Tom Sawyer, Detective, Chapter VI.
  3. "Huey Long Starts Cornpone Battle," The New York Times, February 17, 1931, p. 52
  4. Gilbert, Matthew (2006) "Will TV do right by conservative characters?" The Boston Globe, October 22, 2006, p. 1N
  5. Great Grand-Dad when the Land was Young