wireless_kitchen (2007-11)

My Cornbread Odyssey

All's fair in love, war and trips to the grocery store

by Gay Lyons

Like all epics, this one begins in medias res.  

In the middle of a set of mundane errands last Saturday, I went to a local grocery store to buy a round of cornbread to go with some corned beef and cabbage. Come spring, I get a primordial urge for corned beef and cabbage. Judging from the almost-empty bins of corned beef in the stores, I'm not the only one who develops a taste for the stuff around now.

Anyway, what's corned beef and cabbage without a pan of cornbread? I'd never bought cornbread before. It hadn't even occurred to me that grocery stores sold cornbread. But I'd noticed it a while back, and it seemed like something that'd be interesting to try. So began my cornbread odyssey.

I couldn't remember where in the store I'd seen the cornbread--it seemed to me it had been in a fairly random location. So I sailed up and down every aisle, looking for the basket of plastic-wrapped rounds I'd noticed before. Finally, I gave up and sought help from a friendly woman stocking shelves on aisle three. She had never seen the cornbread I described, but she seemed genuinely curious about the product and offered to help me find it.

Saying "I hardly ever get off aisle three," she escorted me to the bakery/deli area, where a nice man offered me corn muffins instead. "It's the same stuff," he promised. When I assured him I wanted wedges, not muffins, he went in search of some, but, alas, it had all been purchased. I pictured happy households all over town, enjoying corned beef and cabbage and store-bought rounds of cornbread. Every household but mine, that is.

But no! It turned out he was baking some cornbread right then and that it would be ready in a mere 15-20 minutes. I hesitated. Was it worth the wait? After some thought, I decided to finish my errands and return for the cornbread. He said he would put a round of cornbread aside for me. With all the corned beef and cabbage making that was apparently going on all over town, who knew whether there'd be another run on the stuff as soon as my back was turned? I simply couldn't risk it.

When I returned, around 25 minutes later, the man was nowhere to be found, so I asked another employee for help. She didn't know anything about a round set aside for me, but she soon discovered five freshly baked cornbread rounds, still in the pans, on bakery racks.   

She popped a round onto a table and began wrapping it in plastic, but it was determined that the hot cornbread might melt the wrap. She told me the bread needed to cool another 15-20 minutes. I wasn't crazy about another delay, but having invested this much time, I wasn't leaving without my cornbread.  

I killed time looking at baked goods, examining the prosciutto, reading ingredient labels and periodically checking out her continued efforts to package the cornbread in something besides plastic wrap. It seemed to me that a bakery, which sells cakes and pies, ought to have some kind of box suitable for transporting cornbread, but I refrained from pointing this out. I thought of going to the household products aisle, buying a box of foil and wrapping the bread myself. Finally, she discovered some round plastic boxes that seemed right for the job.

I watched as she put the top on the box and began walking towards me. After just a few steps, the top came loose, and the cornbread fell on the floor. She looked at me; I looked at her; and I began laughing.

I promise I was not laughing at this hapless woman. I was laughing at the sheer absurdity of the situation, which had begun about 45 minutes earlier--roughly the time it takes to bake a pan of cornbread. So I laughed. Wouldn't you? Meanwhile, this poor woman, who must have been cursing her misfortune at having encountered me in my quest for cornbread, threw the plastic top across the room and stalked to the rack for another round. By this time, I had stopped laughing. I was just glad she was grabbing rounds of cornbread, not rounds of ammunition. Clearly I needed to get out of there fast.

A pleasant manager intervened and quickly encased my round of cornbread in another plastic box. After apologizing for being such trouble, I carefully took my cornbread to the check out lane. The price--$4.06 with tax--seemed a little high, but, after all I had gone through to get it, I had to have it.

Outside a ferocious gust of wind blew through the parking lot, causing me to clutch my parcel tightly to my chest. One precious round of cornbread had already been sacrificed in this venture. I wasn't losing another one.

Is there a lesson to be learned from this epic account of a ridiculous errand? Are the culinary gods warning me to make my own cornbread? I'll consult the gastronomic muses and get back to you.