good corn bread


My NeurNet flashed the alarm in my eyes: my kitchen lacked several basic ingredients needed for my menu plan for the week. My first reaction of ‘huh?’ was immediately replaced by concern. What was mom making? My ‘Net hadn’t sent me any alerts on his vital signs, so I checked manually. Blood pressure and blood sugar seemed fine, but was her body position sitting on the floor? Had she fallen?

I pinged him ‘Net. No answer. I pinged again. Always nothing. I had no cameras inside the house and was now questioning this agreed-upon privacy boundary.

My boss approached as I rushed for the door. “Again?”

“You know I’m going to make up time.

“I do. Take care.” She understood. His brother had also joined a 20th century cult.

On the tram home, my NeurNet tracked my elevated heart rate and recommended the use of my anti-anxiety medication. That dose didn’t quash my angry worry, but I wasn’t about to bawl anymore. I hated feeling like the parent in our relationship – or like a stranger helping a time traveler adjust to a new era.

“Mom! Are you okay? You have to respond to my pings, or – oh. I stopped outside my kitchen door. It smelled like cornbread, my favorite flavor in the whole world.

My jaw dropped. Six trays of cornbread covered the counter. This explained the low ingredient alert.

Mom was sitting on the floor sobbing.

Since I was young, she had flirted with 20th century worship practices. Some adherents insisted on manual driving or avoided NeurNet implants. Mom didn’t take those roads. She wanted to cook and keep her house old fashioned. Oh, how she embarrassed me when I was a kid! When she joined the cult in her own right ten years ago, she signed on as a homeworker in their secluded compound – and signed on as my mother, as far as I’m concerned.

Her recent cancer diagnosis had selfishly relieved me. The drugs regulated by NeurNet were the surefire way for her to stay alive. She left the sect. I had been begging her to move in with me for years. She did it !

We had been miserable ever since.

“I was testing cornbread to surprise you, but this, this thing can’t fix things. Mom pointed an accusing finger at the full-wall Sup unit.

Sup, short for Supreme Cooker. The pun amused me most of the time, but not this time.

“I see you’ve already sampled every one of them.” My ‘Net advised me to breathe deeply to reduce my stress. “The recipes must be good, otherwise the Sup would not use them.”

Mom jumped to her feet. “Good? Well, those three are too sweet, and this one includes corn kernels. That makes it a corn pudding, do not a loaf.” Spoken like a true descendant of the American South.

“So why did you do it?”

“Sheer desperation.”

His grief made me laugh. I had pestered her to use her NeurNet to access the Sup and everything, and now she had – to this result.

“They’ll all be edible, with the help of butter,” mom continued. “But I want – I need – to find the right recipe. I know it wasn’t easy getting me here, and I wanted to surprise you for once. His smile quivered.

Oh mom. I fought the urge to sob. “You could have been experimenting with recipes for a month instead of six in one afternoon, you know.”

“I was impatient. I wanted to do things right today. I didn’t want you to miss work because of me. Again. I’m sorry.”

Guilt and exhaustion stretched his face. His medications had the cancer in remission, but his battle was ongoing. Mom wanted to. She was trying to be part of the 21st century – and my life.

Maybe I needed to think more like the 20th century to help her.

“Mom, do you remember how to make your particular recipe?” I asked in multitasking to access the Sup.

“Of course I do. I don’t even need an implant to remember that.” Pride stained his voice.

“Most people rely on the Sup being fully automated to have their meals ready when scheduled, but I think I remember… aha! Mom, let me tag you through our ‘Nets’ I took her by the hand – via a mental link – to show her the options for the Sup.

She gasped. “Can I add my recipe manually? »

“Yes. But more…”

“Can I mix by hand and use the Sup for baking alone, like my old oven? I had no idea those big fancy things could do that. We mutually broke the link.

” Me niether ! ” I smiled. I was there, nagging her to use her NeurNet, and I hadn’t even been aware of all the Sup could do. “I can bring those options to the fore and help you get it all.”

Mom’s eyes were shining. “I would have to try the recipe several times. Individual ovens change the way food turns out, you know. I would definitely control the mixing and cooking process at first and then see how the Sup handles the whole thing –”

“Wow, wow, wow. We need to freeze and gradually finish what you did first!”

She laughed. “True. We may soon be tired of cornbread.

“Maybe,” I said, speaking slowly. “But your treatments are going well. Because of that, we have time, mom. You’ll have a much better chance of making the right cornbread recipe for me. For us.”

We moved together at the same time, our arms hugging each other in a tight embrace. My NeurNet complimented me on my new calm as I breathed in the comforting scent of my mother’s cornbread.

The story behind the story

Beth Cato reveals the inspiration behind good corn bread.

Cornbread is a staple side dish in American cuisine, especially in the Southeast. It’s a combination of cornmeal and flour with a quick-rising ingredient like baking powder – but there are probably thousands and thousands of variations on the theme. The bread can be soft and mushy throughout, or traditionally baked in a cast iron skillet with the bread soft in the middle with crispy edges, or hand-held and crispy after being baked into the shape of corn itself in a special pan. The level of sweetness is a subject of great controversy, with more northern variations adding additional granulated sugar or honey. Cornmeal, the base ingredient, can even range in texture from fine to coarsely ground, completely changing the final texture of the bread.

As central as cornbread is to this story, it really is a stand-in for important cultural foods around the world, and what they mean to us personally and within our own families. These foods have evolved (or come into existence) over the past few centuries as ingredients, cultural influences, and technological changes have come into play, and they will change even more in the future.

One thing hasn’t changed though: people who love each other will try to take care of each other, and food will be a major expression of that love. Corn bread included.

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