Cornbread is truly American, in both origin and in tradition. Thanks to the widespread availability and convenience of corn, Native Americans depended on a diet of baked cornmeal concoctions long before Europeans stepped ashore. Today, cornbread serves the noble purpose of reviving rivalry between the North and South (though we think it's fairly good-natured).
Standard cornbread, which follows a quick bread formula, is great for a traditional Thanksgiving meal. But while Northerners are generally content with a simple version from a cake pan (or in muffin form, for the sake of convenience), such complacency earns scorn south of the Mason-Dixon. Southerners are known to get particularly feisty, according to food author Regina Charboneau: "Cornbread in the South is as controversial as gumbo. Everyone has a recipe and everyone has an opinion."
The first debate: sweet or savory? Sweet cornbread, flavored with sugar, molasses or maple, is best topped with honey butter. Savory bread can get as hot as you like it. Try onions or jalapeno peppers for a kick, or grease the pan with bacon drippings for a smoky flavor.
Then, the cook must decide: cake or bread? For a cakelike texture, create a batter and use a cake pan. Often, though, cornbread connoisseurs will insist on serving straight from a cast iron skillet, the contents of which can be baked, steamed or fried.
Assuming it's not Turkey Day, cornbread can be served alone, topped with butter, or alongside a hearty bowl of chili. It can be crumbled into a stuffing for a poultry or seafood entree, or you can just grab a handful and go.