NANCY VIENNEAU: Cooking in Nashville since 1965

Dirty Page: Cornbread

photo: Andrea Behrends

photo: Andrea Behrends

Restaurant critic, author and caterer Nancy Vienneau began cooking this cornbread recipe when she was 19 years old. It was 1974, and her mother-in-law had given her this book from a Time Life series as a wedding present.

After years of reference, it’s now stained with batter and oil. “It was definitely the dirtiest page,” she says.“In my compendium of very dirty pages.”

Nancy first learned to make cornbread from the recipe while teaching herself to cook, and it’s become the foundation for many of her cornbread iterations moving forward—she now adds a mess of greens or onions or jalapeños. She has thinned it down for corn cakes or adjusted it for mini corn muffins.

“When I look at the recipe, I realize how many times I’ve changed it,” she says.

“I’ve gotten it down to a tablespoon of sugar. It called for margarine, and of course I’ve phased that out.”

It’s hardly legible in places, but Nancy can trace its 30-year history by splotches and markings. “I see some of those evolutions in the writing of some of the women who worked with me. They put down funny notes or reminders on measurements.”

The recipe also has been used at the café at Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee. A version of it went into Jack Cawthon’s corn light bread when Nancy worked for the barbecue kingpin’s catering company. A version of it also appears as croutons in Nancy’s latest book Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook.

“It’s had this life all this time,” she says. “Which is just kind of fun to think about.”

Cindy Wall