While words like “artisanal” or “natural” don’t hold much meaning when it comes to food, other terms can be a bit murky - “heirloom” is used to indicate quality and longevity, but what does it really mean? When it comes to heirlooms in your kitchen, tools like vintage cast iron, Field Skillets, and durable cookware alike earn this title because they last for generations, working just as well, likely even better, decades from now.

The meaning of the word “heirloom” shifts meaning when applied to different products: an heirloom skillet has been passed down from person to person, whereas an heirloom fruit, vegetable, or grain has been preserved for decades (typically at least 50 years) without modifying its DNA.

Most produce you buy at the grocery store comes from hybrid crops, which are developed for mass production by cross-pollinating multiple plant varieties for specific traits, such as pest resistance or shelf life. Although hybrid crops aren’t inherently bad, they’re not usually cultivated for their superior flavor, and their mass production has a tendency to erase the distinct qualities of heirloom varieties.

This is what makes heirloom crops so special: their best qualities haven’t been overshadowed by crossbreeding for other traits. They’re also at greater risk of extinction, as commercial agriculture makes it less profitable to grow lower-yield heirloom varieties. But the good news is that there are small farms and seed banks that are working to protect and revive heirloom fruits and vegetables.

Amidst this revival, Appalachia has become known for its rich diversity of heirloom fruits and vegetables, including Bloody Butcher corn, a crop that gets its name from its deep red color, mimicking a blood flecked butcher’s apron (kind of morbid, we know!). Bloody Butcher corn originated in Virginia in the early 1800s, when European settlers mixed their white corn with the red varieties grown by Native Americans. The strain is best used for cornmeal or grits, and mills like Barton Springs Mill are still selling Bloody Butcher cornmeal today.

We wanted a cornbread recipe that was simple and classic, just like the heirloom ingredients and cookware it’s made with. Our Bloody Butcher cornbread follows the stipulations of the classic Southern staple: no flour or sugar, and using pork fat (bacon fat or lard) instead of butter. While some people still prefer their cornbread served up the old-fashioned way—dunked in buttermilk—we prefer ours with a smear of honey-sweetened butter.

Recipe

Bloody Butcher Cornbread with Honey Butter

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, diced, at room temperature
3 tablespoons honey
2 cups coarse Bloody Butcher cornmeal
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1½ cups buttermilk, shaken
1 large egg
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon bacon fat (melted, but not hot)

Instructions

1.

Preheat the oven to 450°F. When the oven has preheated, place a No.8 (10 ¼”) cast iron skillet in the oven to heat for 10 to 15 minutes.

2.

In a small bowl, use a fork to the butter with the honey until smooth.

3.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. In a small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, egg, and ¼ cup of bacon fat. Stir the buttermilk mixture into the cornmeal mixture until just combined.

4.

Remove the skillet from the oven and add the remaining 1 tablespoon of bacon fat, swirling to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the batter and transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cornbread comes out clean. Slice and serve.