Ms. Lillie’s Fried Cornbread Recipe | PBS Food

Ms. Lillie’s Fried Cornbread

From “Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South,” by Vivian Howard (Little Brown, 2016). This recipe is featured in King Cornbread in Season 5 of A Chef's Life.


Yield: 10 1-ounce pieces



  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable oil for frying 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water


  1. Heat the oil over medium heat in a 10­inch cast­iron skillet. In a medium bowl, sift together the cornmeal, salt, baking powder, and sugar. Stir in the water. The cornbread batter will be thick, pasty, and spoonable. You should be able to scoop a little football­shaped piece with your spoon and have it hold its shape when you drop it into the oil. If it’s too loose or seems dry, adjust with more cornmeal or water.
  2. I would typically recommend a thermometer for checking the temperature of the oil, but Lillie would never do that. So test the oil by dropping a small piece of the batter into it. If it immediately starts sizzling, you’re good to go. You’re looking for oil that is roughly 350 degrees.
  3. Spoon the cornmeal footballs around the perimeter of the pan and into the center. Do not crowd the oil, making sure each fritter has a little space on either side of it to fry. If your cornbread is not completely submerged, turn it over after about 3 minutes to fry on the other side. It will take close to 6 minutes to cook the cornbread properly. When it’s done, it will have a thick brown crust and a chewy interior. Drain on paper towels. Serve as soon as possible.
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