from Hoppin' John's Charleston, Beaufort & Savannah

This is the best cornbread you'll ever eat -- truly southern, with no wheat flour or sugar, baked in a sizzling hot cast iron skillet seasoned with a little bacon fat for that golden brown crust. It will be infinitely better if you use my whole-grain, stone-ground cornmeal.

You will need a 9- or 10-inch, well-seasoned, never-washed cast iron skillet for this recipe.

1½ to 2 teaspoons strained bacon grease
1 large egg
2 cups buttermilk at room temperature
1¾ cups cornmeal, preferably whole-grain, stone- ground
1 scant teaspoon salt
1 scant teaspoon baking powder
1 scant teaspoon baking soda

Add enough bacon grease to the skillet to coat the bottom of the pan, then put it in a cold oven and preheat to 450°. In the meantime, mix the egg into the buttermilk, then add the cornmeal and mix well.

When the oven has reached 450°, after about 10 minutes, the grease should be just to the smoking point. Quickly stir the salt, baking powder, and soda into the batter and add the batter all at once to the hot pan. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the top just begins to brown. Turn the bread out onto a platter and serve hot with lots of butter.

Makes 8 to 10 slices to serve 6