“Honey, I invited Lucas and Scott over for dinner tonight,” began the evening’s drama. We were waiting for the service person to come fix the air conditioner on the hottest day we have seen in three years, it was 6:30 p.m., and I was not ready to receive guests. I was just throwing together a pot of Joseph’s Very Famous Blue-Ribbon Chili, and I was going to steam a big bowl of kale and beet greens to put it on. Granted we’ve never had a guest complain about the table fare, but I wasn’t going to be quite that much of a heathen. What else could I make? I decided to add a giant green salad (with a pretty incredible dressing, I might add) and to try making some cornbread. The cornbread was–no kidding–a completely off-the-cuff creation. And like Lucas and Scott, it was awesome. I floated a big square of it in the middle of my bowl of chili and ate it with a spoon.
Relax a little. Cornbread was never meant to be a by-the-measures concoction. Your great-grandmother didn’t weigh out the ingredients. If it’s too wet, add a little more cornmeal. If it’s too dry, add a little more almond milk. If you screw it up entirely, it will probably still be delicious.
Preheat the oven to 375ºF, convection if you have it. Prepare a 9″ x 13″ rectangular pan with a sheet of parchment cut to fit the bottom as closely as possible. If it curls, try moistening one side in a couple of places and stick it down to the pan.
Cook the sweet potato in whatever way works for you: bake it, boil it, steam it, microwave it. Mash it thoroughly or, even better, whip it with a mixer. Place the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and, using a fork, mix thoroughly. Mix the sweet potato and dry ingredients, then add the syrup, corn, and almond milk, and mix completely. Add almond milk gradually to make a thick, but pourable batter. It is better for it to be a little too wet (but not soupy) than too dry. When the pan is prepared, the oven heated, and the batter fully mixed, quickly sprinkle the lemon juice over the surface and then blend it in completely. Immediately transfer the batter into the pan and smooth out the top; a more-flat top is better. Bake at 375ºF for 45 minutes, and remove to cool. If you can cool it at least an hour, it will be better.
After cooling, the cornbread will be quite moist. Release the edges with a thin knife or spatula. Quickly invert the pan over a cutting board and tap the bottom with your fingers, if needed, to release the cornbread. Remove the parchment, cut into squares, and serve.