Short'nin' Bread | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Short'nin' Bread

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Three simple ingredients make delicious bread that's been a treasure for years.

"Mammy's little baby loves short'nin', short'nin'; mammy's little baby loves short'nin' bread. Put on de skillet, put on de lead, mammy's gonna make a little short'nin' bread."--from "A Short'nin' Bread Song--Pieced Out" by poet James Whitcomb Riley.

I remember my mother and father teaching us this song when I was little. As I researched the song later in life, I found that it was an antebellum slave children's song. My parents learned it from oral tradition. When they sang this song, we knew that we had some "sweet bread" in the oven. Back then, they used a cast-iron stove to cook, and we used wood to heat the oven. Mother knew when the food was ready by the smell. I use that same technique to determine when a pan of bread, biscuits or baked chicken is ready for the table.

Soul food includes mouth-watering dishes such as collard greens, fried chicken, barbecued spare ribs and corn bread, as well as less well-known but just as sumptuous recipes such as cheese grits, fish and grits, fish and rice, and the recipe below--short'nin' bread--or the more correct version, shortening bread.

Soul food is truly an American cuisine, originated in the Deep South by slaves and later shaped and expanded by the diversity of African American culture. This culture, rich in history, originated in New World countries such as the British Virgin Islands, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, and in African countries.

Sheila Ferguson, author of "Soul Food: Classic Cuisine from the Deep South," writes: "Soul food is just what the name implies. It is soulfully cooked food ... good for your ever-loving soul ... the shur-nuf kinda down-home cookin' that I grew up on."

My parents changed the wording of the original version of the song. They sang it this way: "Two little children lying in the bed, one half-sick, the other half-dead. Called for the doctor and the doctor said, 'Feed them children some short'nin' bread.'" The original song actually goes, "Three little chilluns lying in bed. Two was sick an', the other most dead. Send for the doctor. The doctor said, 'Feed dose chilluns on short'nin' bread!'" There are other versions as well. Nonetheless, the bread is sho-nuf good.

The recipe is simple. Sometimes the bread is firm and moist, and other times it is soft and gooey. It is just as good either way to me. You can use molasses and some ginger in the recipe. This is a recipe you can experiment with.

Short'nin' Bread

1/2 cup of butter, softened or a low-calorie butter substitute
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup of white or wheat flour
2 tablespoons molasses (optional, preferably blackstrap molasses)
Ginger to taste (optional)

Cream the butter and brown sugar. Add the flour slowly into the mixture, mixing well. Pour into a greased, shallow pan and bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.
Serves six.

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