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Cornbread served every way you can imagine at Columbia festival

2016 Cornbread Festival Cookoff

South Carolina Cornbread Cookoff contestants tell us about their special cornbread recipes while a judge tells us what she looks for in selecting the best cornbread. See what recipe won this year's competition.
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South Carolina Cornbread Cookoff contestants tell us about their special cornbread recipes while a judge tells us what she looks for in selecting the best cornbread. See what recipe won this year's competition.

You can bake it in an oven, fry it in a skillet. Eat it with meat mixed in or on the side. Pour chili over it, dunk it in a mug of milk. Sweet or savory, always crumbly.

There’s a kind of cornbread for everyone. And for everyone at Saturday’s S.C. Cornbread Festival, there were at least a dozen varieties of the Southern staple to be eaten.

Some 3,000 cornbread muffins in flavors ranging from jalapeno to honey to strawberry to Mexican-spiced were baked throughout the day for the fourth annual festival held for the first time at Columbia’s new Spirit Communications Park.

“It’s just a way of getting out of your traditional cornbread,” said Jaquan Riley, a festival volunteer who served up thousands of chunks of crumbly, cakey cornbread muffins. “People will say, ‘I didn’t know you could put pork skins in cornbread,’ or ‘I didn’t know you could put Mexican corn in cornbread.’ ... But if nobody makes it, then how will you know?”

One of the special qualities of cornbread, Riley said, is that while it has a distinctly Southern profile, other cultures incorporate their own food traditions into recipes to diversify the food’s flavor profiles.

And it’s true, cornbread isn’t just for Southerners.

Pennsylvania-native Katie Akers was accustomed to just one variety of cornbread – plain – before sampling the gamut Saturday. She loves cornbread, she said, but her Pennsylvania family just doesn’t eat it often.

She shared an array of samples with her boyfriend, Chad Davenport, of Columbia, and friends Elizabeth Martin and Scott Shook, of Charleston and Columbia.

Akers likes her cornbread unsweetened. Davenport likes it with jalapenos and served at the bottom of a bowl of chili. Martin likes it sweet and crumbled on top of chili or stew. And Shook, well, doesn’t really care much for cornbread at all (huh?!).

“It’s dry. Corny,” Shook said.

But dry and corny is, of course, just the way many cornbread-eaters like it.

The allure of cornbread drew Mariette Dargan and Jacques Selby to Columbia from Augusta just for the festival.

“I’ve had it maybe two or three different ways, but I didn’t know all the ways you can make it,” Dargan said.

Dargan likes to eat it alongside fried chicken; Selby likes it best fried with fat back on the side.

In any case, cornbread is meant to be a part of a meal that’s Southern and maybe (probably) just a little unhealthy – because its taste, Dargan said, is “homey.”

Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.

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